CategoriesLegalHealthThought of The Day

Ignore the Bedside Manner    

During my 18 years practicing law, I have worked with hundreds of lawyers. I have also hired, managed and fired quite a few lawyers, too. Through my work I have also trained a few hundred doctors, and sued over 100 medics for medical negligence. And with my never-ending – and very boring – chronic health dramas, I have been treated by dozens of medics. I’d like to think that I have sufficient authority to express a view about doctors and lawyers. But the principle upon which I will write applies to most realms of work.

My thesis is: that the bedside manner of a professional is usually misleading to their client or patient. Yet most patients and clients simply don’t get this. The best example of this is Dr Harold Shipman: his wonderful bedside manner masked his 250 murders. Even after news of his crimes came to light, many residents of Hyde, Manchester said that they would still have had him as their doctor, because he was so lovely.

And just because a lawyer answers the phone and replies to emails in a timely manner, it doesn’t follow that sound legal work has taken place. Sure, it is a good sign that correspondence is courteously and quickly dealt with, but it doesn’t indicate that the advice has been accurate. The legal advice is the key element, not how it was presented. And just because a doctor appears understanding and thorough it doesn’t follow that their advice has been appropriate. Professional regulators only ensure a minimum level of professional competence – that’s all. Professional indemnity insurers charge higher sums to incompetent professionals, but remember that Dr Shipman wasn’t priced out of the market!

Over the years, I have witnessed incompetent lawyers, who have prepared a case poorly, only to succeed in their case, to the joy of their client. Conversely, I know of excellent lawyers, well prepared in their case, who have lost, to the ferocious disappointment of their client. In the first example, praise is misplaced and, in the second, criticism is unwarranted. Even the outcome doesn’t tell the full story.

When training medics about clinical negligence law, my number one tip for avoiding a claim is to ensure that they are transparent and extremely helpful with the patient who had just been damaged through their negligence. The last thing that a patient wants to do is to sue their doctor, even if the wrong kidney had been erroneously removed. Evasive, unhelpful doctors are the ones who bear the most complaints.

Many people don’t know this, but lawyers have forever been duty-bound to report to their client errors which have damaged their client. Rightly, we fess-up when we have blundered. However, in medicine, astonishingly, it is only since 2014 that medics have been subjected to a duty of candour. Yet the public trusts medics more than lawyers. Another example of misplaced trust.

In my experience, the only – though far from fool-proof – way to improve the odds of seeing the right lawyer, or medic, is to ask other professionals for their recommendations. And if you can get a few recommendations, from various professionals, then this will improve the odds that you are to see the right person for your issue. Ask the professional: if they had the [insert type of legal case or symptom] that you have, who would they want to see and why? And even if you see the very best professional, you won’t know if they are having an off-day.

All this assumes that the patient, or client, has ready access to other lawyers or doctors in their social circle, usually as part of their middle class advantage. Of course, online reviews and your own instinct have some place in judging the merits of various professionals, but know that, unless you are an expert in the field yourself, you simply don’t know whether your professional is any good.

 

So, good luck!

CategoriesHealthEnvironmentInternational AffairsTravelPolitics

The Sick Man of Europe

(Written during take-off from Tenerife South, Airport)

 

Travelling on a rickety bus in rural Thailand, back in 2000, I had my only epiphany. The vast distance from home – turbocharged by the cultural punch in the face that South-East Asia delivers with aplomb – afforded me 20:20 insight into how my life was going, and what the future might look like.

 

And it wasn’t a pretty picture.

 

For context, I had just finished my second year at university: a year I could barely recall due to too much booze, insufficient studying and little progress on the friend front. Frankly, I was a mess. As I realised, to continue on that trajectory would lead only to a 2:2 degree – or worse – with the resulting deleterious impact upon my career.

 

Encouraged by the bone-jangling bus – where only moronic backpackers sit at the back, being the most bone-jangly seats – I made myself a solemn promise. On return to the UK, I’d get my act together, and achieve a 2:1.

 

One year later, it was mission accomplished.

 

Travel does that, doesn’t it? It provides the gift of perspective. Perhaps perspective is the best reason to just go – and to go anywhere. And it’s from my literal vantage point, as I type, 30,000ft up, zooming away from Tenerife, that I feel confident to write the following.

 

The UK is poorly, not irreversibly sick, not yet on life-support, but we are in desperate need of a reset. Deep down, I think all Brits know this. Naturally, we have much to be proud about; the high net migration figures is sufficient proof that we live in an enviable land. But we are on the decline.

 

……

 

One week earlier, leaving the UK, from Leeds-Bradford airport (which is it: Leeds, or Bradford?), is a traumatising, harrowing experience. A national embarrassment. Twice now, in a matter of months, I have nearly missed my plane due to the unfathomably lengthy queues to get through security. And neither time was I travelling during peak season.

 

This time, with the knowledge that another horrible queue awaited me, I had ummed and ahhed about having special assistance at the airport, for I had been feeling somewhat unsteady on my feet those preceding days. I opted against help. I’d brave it, I thought.

 

Big mistake.

 

Feeling like something that you would scrape off your shoe, standing for 90 mins, with heavy hand luggage, it was tougher than a marathon. And I’ve run two. All around me, patient Brits – and all other nationalities – queued without grumble, for this is the national sport.

 

Conversely, at the far busier airports of The Canary Islands, security and passport control is so speedy that I do not recall the experience. Financially, the longer people wait in queues, the less that they can spend. Intellectually and economically, how can British airport operators justify such a delay? And why should we highlight our incompetence to the world by making travel to the UK so disagreeable?

 

Anyway, after a mad dash to the plane, setting-off over gorgeous, awakening and misty Yorkshire, several – just a few – relentless, small wind turbines, brought me joy. But within an hour, my joy had turned to despair, for we were flying over rural Ireland, which was carpeted by far larger, functioning glorious wind turbines. Why does Ireland get it, but we don’t? Growing up, Ireland was the butt of every joke. But who’s the fool now?

 

Never forget that David Cameron essentially banned onshore wind turbines, and no Tory leader since has changed the policy since (though Truss had covertly planned to do so). Future generations will be rightly furious. I’m enraged now.

 

To compound my misery, arriving in Tenerife, I was greeted by legions of massive turbines, standing proudly, purposefully, environmentally. See: Brits are the odd ones out! Onshore wind is a no-brainer.

 

What’s more, wind turbines and airports aside, in The Canaries I have repeatedly observed that the traffic flows; the hospitals function; ambulances arrive, with the utmost haste; pavements pose no danger; parking is easy and free; the people are warm and polite; the children are driven and respectful (I witnessed a language school in operation); there are public electric charging points, unlike in Harrogate; inflation is lower; life is slower; and the general costs are cheaper. Sure, not everything is better, but this isn’t the world’s 5th largest economy I was travelling in.

 

And what really hammered home the difference between the two countries was a sign outside of a lawyer’s office which stated that the firm closed at 2pm every day! Just imagine that, lawyers.

 

Perhaps the Spanish mainland has the same sort of problems that we have in the UK; I cannot say. Possibly, until recently, the blank canvas provided by The Canaries – for they are volcanic islands – allows for more sensible policies, uncoupled to outdated ways. Perhaps what we need in the UK is a metaphorical volcanic eruption of our own; to let us start over, taking the best bits of the UK and scrapping the worst parts. Perhaps Brexit was that eruption. Only time will tell.

CategoriesHealthThought of The Day

Cuando In Tenerife

It’s 8pm on Saturday night. I’m alone, in Puerto De La Cruz, Tenerife. Two guitarists serenade the busy restaurant. I have a table in the corner, squinting at the TV, watching Argentina V Mexico in the World Cup. The delightful smell of garlic wafts over. The night isn’t balmy; it’s quasi-balmy, if you know what I mean.

I await la comida sin gluten. Wish me luck. My Spanish – though improving – lets me down, repeatedly. Perhaps I will be served a plate of gluten. Yummy.

I booked this trip on Thursday, for the Friday. Solo. I simply had to do something to arrest the deterioration in my darn (yawn) health.

As I type, a lady, twice my age, with pink hair, takes the mic and begins to sing in Spanish. She’s good. The audience – all Spanish – of a certain age, begin to clap in tune.

The steak is chewy, just about dead. In a first for me, here’s a photo, true Instagram-style. My new theory is that the health of the modern human is damaged if we depart too much from what our ancestors did. I doubt that we are meant to spend our working day on a chair, tapping away on a keyboard. I doubt that our brains are able to cope with the constant bombardment of emails, WhatsApps and tweets  I doubt that we should eat three square meals per day.

It’s still 0-0.

All day, I have been thinking about how long I have felt so rough. For the last two years, if not longer, for every waking minute, I haven’t felt quite right. Sometimes, I’m at 90% health and nobody could know anything was wrong. At other times, I’m down at 20%. That’s quite the thing, isn’t it?

I don’t know whether to treat this illness as a battle, a marathon. Or, I wonder, perhaps I should make peace with it. Certainly, many parts of my life have been better for me and my family since I couldn’t work as I once did. Certainly, many aspects of life are worse. I don’t feel sorry for myself. But I would like to run again.

The Stoic in me knows that I shouldn’t expend any energy contemplating matters outside of my control, but elements of this illness appear to be within my control. Surely there’s a cure? So I should keep fighting, right?

Then I realise – again – that there’s no medic who has my back. Nobody is trying to make me well. It’s all on me. Chronic illness is unsexy; and ones caused by big pharma aren’t being fixed by big pharma, because there’s no money in it. Oh, and it’s better for them that’s there’s no admission of blame  

The guitarist duo start to play the Spanish classic “Cuando, Cuando, Cuando”. When, indeed.

Messi scores.

CategoriesHealthHarrogateThought of The Day

Pooper-Scooping

It’s 11pm, in the Autumn. On the Stray, it’s raining hard. As ever, the wind is unforgiving. The streetlights are off. Underfoot, mushed-up leaves. I’m soaking, particularly my feet.

 

Despite multiple commands to “do a poo-poo”, the dog looks at me, bemused, his orange flashing collar makes me nauseous.

 

Then, at last, we have action! Thankfully, mission accomplished, over a pile of leaves: which always makes for easier scooping.

 

With the handy torch, on my phone, precariously balancing between my knees, successfully I scoop-up my prize, depositing it in the nearby bin. Good dog: he usually does it close to a bin. “Yes, you can have plenty of biscuits. Let’s go home.”

 

Although I hated every nappy I changed, and although, until recently, I hated pooper-scooping, today I’m loving it.

 

These little, irrelevant everyday things – tasks which I hitherto despised – have now taken on a whole new joy, because I can now do them, after so many months of uselessness on my part.

 

After 42 years of living mainly in my head – living in the past and, more often, living in various futures – I’m learning to live in the moment, as Alan Watts repeatedly advised us to do. Life is now! Revel in it. Life isn’t in the future! Forget the past. Delight in the now. And pick up the poop.

 

CategoriesLegalHealthQuakerismBusiness

Leaving my own law firm after a decade

(Due to poor health, three of my colleagues at Truth Legal are buying my shares in a Management Buy-Out. A few days ago, I gave a speech at our 10th birthday party in Hotel Du Vin, Harrogate. Below, is my speech, though, I have omitted all the personal comments that I made about my wonderful team, as well as removing the never-ending list of “thank-yous”. For posterity, I record here what I said that night. As with other speeches, I write down what I will say, just in case I get lost. Another time, when I have processed it, I will write more about this monumental decision.)

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10th party truth legal

Welcome, everybody, welcome to the Truth Legal 10th birthday celebration!

 

Somehow, we made it!

 

Wow, I’m honored that you all came here today to celebrate with us. Thank you.

 

I hope that you all have an excellent and useful evening, and that you drink the bar dry.

 

For those who don’t know me, I’m Andrew Gray. I’m the founder of TL and its my job this evening to explain how we got here and to say a gazillion heartfelt thank yous.

 

How did we get here?

I’m going to explain how we did it, and I’m going to introduce you all to our team, most of whom are here today. After all, a law firm is really just a collection of people.

 

When I left my last law firm, Thompsons, where I used to work with Navya, Sarah, Catherine, David and Julie, Hardev, Shabana, Joel and Sarah, I was either going to be at stay at home dad, or was going to set up a law firm.

 

Crazily, I was only four years qualified and my wife and I had two kids under 2, the youngest of whom just didn’t sleep. And still doesn’t sleep. It must have been the option to sleep in an office which made me set up.

 

I shall let you into a secret: as you would imagine, I calculated the costs of setting up a law firm and working out how far we could last on our meagre saving and on Julia’s maternity pay. I then added up all family outgoings. Although it would be a scrape, as Personal Injury law firms aren’t paid for a few years, I thought we’d get by. So, I handed in my notice.

 

A few weeks later, I realized that I had forgotten to take into account our mortgage payments.

 

So, TL only came into being because I can’t budget or count.

 

Why Truth Legal?

 

Because I am a Quaker. If you don’t know Quakers, think of Rowntree, Llloyds, Barclays, Cadburys and Waterhouse, Judi Dench. Essentially, we believe in equality, sustainability, peace, simplicity and Truth – hence Truth Legal.

 

For me, a law firm had to be about something more than just making money. I wanted a law firm that would take a stand. Be unpopular, if needed. Do the right thing.

 

And I believed it then and still today, that there’s no point in living in a democracy if you can’t use the laws enacted by our representatives, because you can’t afford a lawyer.  Access to law should be akin to access to the NHS.

 

(Here came lengthy thank yous to all the staff individually and to our friends, clients and suppliers)

 

Finally, before we talk about what happens next, let me tell you about our MD, Georgina Parkin. When she was a trainee solicitor, she took a new phone enquiry. She said that the caller was a “Secretary” and that the secretary was making the call with “a member”. When I pushed her, she said that the Secretary was a typist who does a variety of rolls in an office. The caller was a “General Secretary” of a Trade Union!!

 

Despite that blip, Georgina has been the safest pair of hands. She qualified quickly; became a director; then perhaps the youngest Law Society President; became our MD; became a mum; and then an equity partner. That’s a meteoric rise and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Georgina.

 

The Future

Initiated by me, because I am not able to work as I once did and I don’t want people generating profit for me, I am pleased to tell you all that we have agreed a Management Buy Out. Georgina, Louis and Navya will be buying my shares and I will become a consultant of the firm.

 

My wife asked me to not to quote Boris Johnson who finished with “Hasta La Vista Baby”.

 

So, I’ll finish with:

 

“In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here”

 

CategoriesHealth

Good Pills, Bad Pills

(Warning: another boring health post, recorded here in the hope that it might be of use to others)

 

Of all the numerous and weird symptoms that I have endured these last few years, none has had a greater impact on my quality of life than the chronic fatigue. When doctors ask me which one symptom that I would prioritise them curing, then fatigue would be it.

 

The neurologist who diagnosed my poisoning by strong antibiotics – the fluoroquinolone antibiotics – explained to me that the fluoroquinolones permanently damaged the mitochondria in each cell.

 

Simply put, the mitochondria is the “powerhouse of each cell” in the body. You certainly don’t want that damaging. What befuddles me is that there seems to be very little research on the mitochondria despite its central role throughout the body. Why is this? So much remains unknown about the body. My guess is that over the next decade the mitochondria will become follow the gut as the area of medicine that the everyday person will become far more aware of. I may stand to benefit from this likely zeitgesit.

 

Fortunately for me, I have been working with an excellent nutritional therapist, Jessica Barfield of Enjoy Nutrition. After extensive research, Jessica recommended that I try some new (and very expensive) supplements aimed at enhancing the damaged element of the mitochondria. The pills are https://www.researchednutritionals.com/product/atp-fuel-optimized-energy-for-serious-mitochondrial-needs-gmo-free/.

 

Frankly, as with all other supplements I have taken – and there’s been dozens – I didn’t expect any improvement. However, within a week the fatigue was reduced by 80%. Of course, I wonder if this is simply the placebo effect in operation, or perhaps just coincidence. I’ll never know, but I will keep taking them. Good pills!

 

And as is all too common to chronic illness sufferers, the ups are usually followed by a down. And so it was for me again.

 

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Recently, with another delightful but low-level infection rumbling away, on advice from the consultant, the GP prescribed me with light-touch antibiotics for 6 weeks – trimethoprim. I’ve had lots of this antibiotic before without any dramas.

 

With no expectation of side-effects, I commenced the course. Within one day – so after only two tablets – my family noticed that I developed three round, red blotches on my face. Immediately, I stopped taking them, and reported the impact to the GP. I then filed a Yellow Card – which is a report about the side effects of a given medication. Another set of bad pills?

 

(Incidentally, the nobody-can-believe-she-made-the-Cabinet, Nadine-Dorries, answered a question about Yellow Card reports in relation to fluoroquinolone antibiotics here.)

 

What this means is that there’s even fewer antibiotics I can turn to when – as will inevitably happen – another infection strikes. And with so few antibiotics to turn to, there must be the risk that I develop resistance to these. Such is life.

 

CategoriesHealthPoliticsHarrogateThought of The Day

UFOs, Covid deaths and Poverty

Partygate, the despot-like re-writing of the Ministerial Code, Russian aggression and energy price hikes, all dominate the British news. Remember Covid? Well, Covid news has been – thankfully – consigned to the dustbin of history. But what ought to be on everyone’s lips is the US Congressional Hearing into UFOs.

Only 90 minutes of the hearing was held in public, but during this time, those of us who bothered to engage with it learned that, in simple terms, the US Government believes that UFOs are real. Sure, the Pentagon officials under questioning did not categorically say “UFOs exist”, however, they could not say what else the numerous UFO sightings could be. These officials stated that US pilots have been reluctant to make reports of UFOs for fear of looking foolish. Just imagine if all pilots, not just in the US military, felt able to make such reports – then how many incidents would need investigation.

In a rational world, the confirmation of UFOs ought to be a cause for great intellectual debate, but it isn’t. Social media, coffee shops, workplaces and anywhere else where conversation takes place, would, in a world populated by rational humans, be awash with talk about UFOs. For a start, all religious belief and history would be in need of reappraisal.

It seems to me that, we, as a species, cannot countenance the admission of something which, in its acceptance, would mean that we have to reconfigure of all our hitherto-held views. We are unable to process this information. So, we shut our minds to the facts. Ignorance is bliss. Let’s hope that aliens do not share the human desire to colonise others.

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But, what do UFOs have to do with Covid? Let me explain.

Only political nerds like me follow Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Several months ago, one such request – not made by me, I should add – piqued my interest. A wily individual asked Harrogate Borough Council to set out the number of deaths, each year, from 2015 to 2021, split between cremations and burials.

Now before you scroll down, I challenge you to affix, in your head, answers to the following questions. I have asked the below questions to a number of intelligent people, none of whom came even remotely close to accurately guessing the answer to question 3.

  1. In Harrogate, do you think that deaths are broadly even for the years before Covid – 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019?
  2. What, if any, impact did Covid have to deaths in 2020? Up or down, and by what percentage?
  3. Then, with those guesses fixed, ask yourself: what happened to deaths in Harrogate in 2021?

The following is the data provided by Harrogate Borough Council.

Year               Cremation                                 Burial

2015 1580 171
2016 1581 137
2017 1609 184
2018 1640 145
2019 1543 175
2020 1890 155
2021 512 47

 

Is that what you expected, particularly for 2021? I very much doubt it.

If, like me, and like everyone I have previously asked this question to, you didn’t foresee that the average deaths fell in 2021 by 68% from pre-Covid levels of an average of 1,753 people per year to just 559, then why were we all so wrong? At the time of writing, circa 75% of the population have had Covid. If Covid was so potent (which it was in 2020), why are more people alive today in Harrogate than there ought to be, given the number of people who have had it? Covid is still here: a number of my colleagues have recently had it and it was nasty and long-lasting.

Evidently, Covid was a massive threat in 2020, increasing the number of deaths in Harrogate by 14% (an extra 300 deaths). But, astonishingly, deaths then fell by 1,194 in 2021, which means – bizarrely – that Covid has saved lives in Harrogate. I struggled to write the previous sentence, but I must be led by the evidence.

The reasons behind these surprising stats must be multifactorial and should be forensically interrogated. What did Harrogate do right? Or was this just a case of wealthier, greener areas faring better than other places?

Most people confronted with this evidence usually retort, with: “The reduction in deaths must be down to the reduction in road traffic accidents.” Not an unreasonable suggestion, but an inaccurate assertion predicated on a miscalculation of the number of road traffic deaths per year. Pre-covid, circa 1800 people were killed on the roads in the UK, each year. Covid reduced these deaths by around 11%. By my estimations, Covid might have saved the lives of circa 6 people in the Harrogate area who, in normal times, would have died on the roads. This does not explain why more people are alive in Harrogate thanks to Covid.

Frequent readers of my blog will know that I was and remain fiercely critical of the Government for its slow response to the pandemic. As Dominic Cummings has stated, our Government’s clear and obvious early errors killed thousands of people. But deaths from Covid, based on Harrogate data, appears to have petered out much before vaccines were rolled out. Certainly, Covid is frequently a very unpleasant illness, with Long Covid having many similarities with my maladies. However, unless you broadly guessed the death figures for 2021, you must admit that you have been hoodwinked, when considering the Harrogate case.

Given that nobody I had spoken to was aware of these facts, I sent the story to two local news outlets. One editor published the story and the second did not. The second editor thought that this data – and its concomitant questions it raises – wasn’t newsworthy, much to my disbelief. The first editor, who ran the story, subsequently told me that this was one of the least read stories that the publication had had!

Like with UFOs, perhaps people don’t want to face facts. We simply cannot countenance re-evaluating everything that we thought we were sure of. But as Karl Marx once replied, when asked what his favourite maxim was, he said, “Question everything”.

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So shocked I was by Harrogate’s figures that I decided to FOI Blackburn and Salford councils, given my connection to the areas and given that their populations significantly differ from Harrogate – ethnically, socially and economically. Here are their figures:

Blackburn

 

Year 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Cremations 1217 1250 1238 1298 1,260
Burials 382 387 396 536 511

 

Pre-Covid, Blackburn saw an average of 1,623 deaths per year. The first year of Covid saw – similar to Harrogate – an increase of deaths by 13% (Harrogate was at 14%). However, unlike in Harrogate, deaths in 2021 were 9% above pre-Covid levels: a significantly different direction of travel to that of Harrogate. Covid has been lethal in Blackburn.

 

Salford

 

Cremations

Number

2017 1824
2018 1746
2019 1742
2020 2183
2021 1800

 

Full Burials
2017 276
2018 285
2019 261
2020 325
2021 278

 

Pre-Covid, Salford saw an average of 2,045 deaths per year. In 2020, deaths increased by a whopping 22.7%, with an additional 463 deaths. Undeniably, Covid was very dangerous to the population of Salford in 2020.

In 2021, there was an increase in deaths on pre-Covid levels of 22 poor souls, up 1.6% on pre-Covid levels. As with Salford, the pattern in Blackburn was markedly different from the Harrogate experience.

My thesis is that these figures speak to the general lower life expectancies in poorer areas. Nothing new in that analysis, of course. Assuming that we as a country find these stark differences unacceptable, surely to even-up life expectancies (including between men and women, with women living on average 4 years more) ought to be central to our national conversation, but it isn’t. Rational aliens have nothing to fear from us.

 

CategoriesLegalHealthThought of The Day

The “D” Word

This April Fool’s Day it is fitting to write that I have become….. disabled. There, I have written it.

But I cannot easily say this out loud.

How can I – Andrew Gray – have become disabled? I’ve run two marathons; completed the national Three Peak Challenge; and played competitive football until this time last year. My high fitness levels were always a source of pride. I can tell you how many goals I scored in each competitive season, and for pleasure, I often play back some of the goals in my head. Those were good times.

But this issue – this definition of “disability” – has gnawed away at me over the last few months. In my head, I knew that I needed to write down my thoughts, for in writing I usually find clarity, but I had no prompt. That is, until just now.

Minutes ago, I finished a telephone call with a very good friend, one whom I have played football with countless times. He kindly enquired about how I was doing, without making a big deal about it (which I much prefer). Replying, I struggled to say: “I have fluoroquinolone associated disability. There is nothing that the doctors can do for me.” Ouch. I couldn’t fully finish the sentence. It’s the “D” word which bothers me most.

Perhaps, in my head, disabled people were, I thought, born that way, and have known nothing else. Or, perhaps I thought, that such unfortunate people had suffered a freak accident, leading to their predicament. Of course, I knew that people often become disabled over time – as has happened to me – because I have represented so many of them as their lawyer. Yet, subconsciously, I must have thought that it couldn’t possibly have happened to me. To me! I was fit and able.

In the darkest recesses of my head, “disability” must still have conjured up images of a wheelchair-bound people, even though the legal definition of disability, as set out in section 6 of The Equality Act 2010, has been hardwired into my brain ever since I represented disabled people pursuing disability discrimination claims. It seems that what I knew as a lawyer somehow didn’t connect with what I thought, at a deep, flawed and irrational level.

And yet, possibly, the nomenclature – the terminology, the definition of “disabled” – perhaps is unhelpful. Or just unhelpful to me. In my blog profile, I list all the things that I am, to an outsider, before finishing that “I hate labels”. Does the label – disabled – help me? Does it help others? It must.

And why does it upset me to say out loud: “I am disabled!” I am, in law, disabled. Perhaps I need to own it.

Am I bothered that “I don’t look disabled”? Do I want the condition to be more physically obvious? No, no way, though I am sure that my subconscious craves more obvious signs to the world that I physically struggle: a ready-made excuse as to why I sometimes cannot do something. If I can’t stand up on a train to let a pregnant woman sit down, should I have to explain myself?

Logically, when my day is going well, I must be happy, right? But, then, subconsciously, I feel guilty that I am functioning well. There is guilt in feeling capable, able. And yet there is guilt when feeling incapable, unable.

I suppose that I should make much more of an effort to care even less about what others think. And, I wonder what other prejudices and silliness lurks in my subconscious.

CategoriesLegalHealthHarrogate

A Life-Affirming Stay in Harrogate Hospital

(These are my musings, written in hospital, more diary entry than blogpost)

In Antibiotics, I trust

 

It’s 23:51 on Saturday 12 February 2022. I’m back as an in-patient at Littondale Ward, nearly four years ago to the day that I was last in here when I had sepsis. My drip pumps fluids into me. It’s been a tough few days.

 

I’m the youngest on the ward, by 30 years. So, everyone asks me – what I do for a living. It’s always a bit tricky to talk about it at such times.

 

I have Pyelonephritis. Essentially a kidney infection which has risen up the body. 111, ambulance, A and E and now however many days I need to stay here.

 

I’m glad I came in when I did. If I didn’t, kidney damage can be permanent. Perhaps it still will be. I read that this condition kills 7.4% of people who get it. But I suspect that most are older men.

 

I’ve been treated fairly well. The staff are very pleasant. Due to my temperature, I was placed on the Covid unit for 6 hours, which makes sense. No lunch or tea. Thankfully, this evening Julia delivered my bag, complete with food. I don’t know what people do when they have no loved ones close by.

 

I haven’t seen any specialists, but that will come. Staggering to the bathroom (details to be spared, suffice to say that it’s unpleasant) with my drip tripod-thing-on-wheels, with my blood visible up and down the tube, is something I’d like to forget.

 

My advice to any reader is to understand your body and to dispassionately read around your medical condition, making your own mind up. We know our bodies best. Night.

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I’ve become like a phone charger

 

Well, that was a memorable night. Dehumanising on one level, yet I’m filled with immeasurable gratitude for the endeavours of my carers, working Saturday night shifts, doing the work of the angels. My eyes fill with tears as I type that sentence, for I couldn’t do this for a living.

 

Dehumanising in that, for the nearly 24 hours I have been here, I’ve spent most of that time connected to a drip. Each time the drip is changed – from this antibiotic, to another; to fluids and anything else I cannot figure out – nobody really asks for my permission. They just do it. I feel like the utility phone charger in a hotel: used by all the guests, often roughly but necessarily so, repeatedly being plugged and unplugged.

 

The legal case of Montgomery- which deals with patient consent in a medical setting – has crossed my mind each time, for it was frequently being breached, but perhaps this was the right thing to do, though not strictly lawful.

 

Bathroom “breaks” are a frequent challenge. Each “success” feels like scoring a goal.

 

Update:

 

Urologist has just told me I need to stay another day, and that it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll be able to go on holiday next week with the kids. I’m quite upset.

 

The man next to me still snores – it’s 9:30am – as he has done all night, at such a high decibel level that I could claim for noise-induced hearing loss. He’s disrupted those of us under 80 in here, but I only feel pity for him, as he looks so unwell. He sounds so unwell. I wish him well. Sleep, though, might help the rest of us to recover.

 

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The Kindness of strangers

 

It’s 19:40 on Sunday night. My neighbour – out of the blue – has bought me a gluten-free snack. He’s the one who kept us all awake all night with his mammoth-like snores. He must have heard my repeated requests for gluten-free food, often to no avail. It’s really touched me. We haven’t really spoken. I’ve always known that humans are 99.9% good: this gesture is life-affirming.

 

A new man arrives. He’s far younger than me and clearly very poorly. We’re all rooting for him, but nobody has said a word. It’s unspoken. There’s always someone worse off in here.

 

The nurses change the elderly men with such dignity. I’d rather not hear it, or smell it – for their sake and mine – but it truly is inspiring. I bury my head in my phone.

 

And then we all overhear a doctor giving the “end of life” discussion to an elderly man at the other end of our 6-man ward. Does he want his heart restarting, if it fails? I’m watching football on the iPad, unable to concentrate on it: what will his wish be? Will his heart stop tonight?

 

The inhabitants of this ward shouldn’t have all heard that, particularly the new guy, gasping for air. That was such a delicate conversation. The doctor was, simply, perfect, though. Not an easy conversation to have with someone. When the time comes for me, I’d want to be spoken to like that.

 

I guess we are all bearing our everything in here. I can’t work out whether it’s appalling that this lack of privacy pervades in 2022, or whether this war-type spirit is good for us all.

 

One chap has the sweetest of sweet tooths, almost childlike in his requests for biscuits. It makes everyone smile. Who knew that the NHS does chocolate milk on tap?

 

The staff are unfailingly kind. I’ve never been anywhere where the staff are universally so willing to help, and they don’t stop either. And they’re so diverse, far more so than the population of Harrogate. The accents do cause some of the elderly men some confusion.

 

In macro terms, the structure and processes of the NHS need an honest rethink. But the kindness on display from the staff here is unsurpassable.

 

I hope to go home tomorrow (which I do).

 

CategoriesHealthThought of The Day

Poisoned by antibiotics?

It’s time for another dull health update. Today, my neurologist copied me into a letter which he sent to my GP. In it, he asks what types of antibiotics I have had over the years, speculating that I might be suffering from fluroquinolone toxicity. He asks whether I have ever taken ciprofloxacin (Cipro). Boy, have I taken Cipro! It’s the only antibiotic I can recall taking for the innumerable bouts of prostatitis which have plagued me for years.

In the US, there are class lawsuits against big pharma for the damage that these antibiotics have done to thousands of men. Stemming from these actions, the EU investigated the issue, leading to an EU-wide memo warning of its dangers. Relevant to me, the European Medicines Agency demanded that Cipro and others was not prescribed for chronic prostatitis.

In March 2019, our Department of Health advised GPs not to prescribe these antibiotics, unless in exceptional cases. The guidance notes that some people are left with permanent nerve damage. Perhaps this is where I am now.

Frankly, I am numb, at the thought that I’m stuck at 65% (if that) of capacity, permanently. Will I ever be able to work full-time again? Will I ever play sport again? Or run again?

And what trajectory am I now on? If permanent Cipro poisoning is the diagnosis, does this actually change anything?

In the last seven days, I have: attended the funeral of a good friend’s mother; met with someone whose son committed suicide; learned about my friend’s husband, who buried two of his children before they turned 12, due to an inherited condition; and caught up with another friend who has just lost their mother.

There are no guarantees for any of us. Everything has changed but nothing has changed: life is tough and unpredictable. Enjoy it! Time to book a holiday.

Lessons to Learn

Foolishly, well before now, I should have started researching why it was that I kept on succumbing to infections. In yesteryear, each infection would have killed me. It’s only of late when I have bothered to ask this fundamental question. More fool me. Repeated prescriptions of weapon’s grade antibiotics could never be the answer.

And as for the NHS, it could have saved us all tens of thousands of pounds by investigating why these infections occur. Upstreaming, holistic approaches to medicine must quickly become the way that we as a society tackle health issues. Quick fixes, like antibiotics, just push the problems down the line.