PC 99 Montefiore


Through the window, across the road I can see the end of the largest Christian Orthodox Coptic church in the south of England. In the early evening sunlight, in the dappled shade provided by the elm tree, it looks idyllic.



But my view is deceiving. Zoom in and it’s seen from Room 16 at the Montefiore Hospital on Davigdor Road in central Hove. This morning seems a long time ago. Theresa at the reception desk was on duty until 2100 last night and here she is at 0655 ……. after I give her my name she checks my date of birth (dob) ……. and then asks if I’m with Mr Cass (my spinal surgeon) …… and then checks the dob again.

This can’t be right” she mutters under her breath but loud enough to hear …. I can see her confusion as she looks at me, my face belying my actual age!!

It’s the hot yoga!” I say and she understands completely as she occasionally goes to the same studio and is also an aficionado. Up to Room 16. To get this far I had to have a meeting with Mr Cass on Monday, see my GP on Tuesday, get checked at the hospital the same day for MRSA etc, asked again about dob and next of kin, sign here, agree this;  you will no doubt be familiar with this world in some way.

You will have gathered by now the long story roughly alluded to in PC 95 had come to a head. The NHS system advised a ‘watchful and waiting’ treatment; I wanted an MRI to find why I couldn’t walk without a stick. So I had to jump the NHS as this had gone on too long and I was in too much pain. You hear that after people get unexpectedly upgraded to business or even first class on an airplane, they vow never to ‘turn left’ again …. although we do know some people who take this a rub-your-nose-in-it further with a “Oh! You fly ‘Commercial’ do you?” So into the Montefiore, a private Spire hospital for a Lumbar Microdiscectomy at L4/L5.

There’ll be a vanity bag in the bathroom with shampoo, shower gel etc but if you need anything you only have to ask.” Ah!

After a room visit by the anesthetist, I wait; it’s 0815. Then the assistant anesthetist arrives. “Can you walk?” Up to the second floor in the lift, walk past Theatre 1 and Theatre 2, theatre reception etc; it’s so far it’s like walking from the air bridge to passport control in an airport when you arrive. You may remember that the ‘space blanket’ that was all the rage in the ’70s (a NASA benefit) that’s now ubiquitous in camping stores and in mountain rescue vehicles? Then they developed a self-heating glove ……. well, in the pre-operating room I was covered with a self -heating blanket …… wow, now that’s cool! (Sorry couldn’t resist)

We talk about this and that …. “you might feel a small prick ” …….. “Can I put this oxygen mask over your nose?” and ……… the mind just doesn’t go blank, you lose conscientious very quickly. (I write this and am reminded of that film Lucy with Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman about how we only use 10% of our brain power …. when we are awake!)

I awake in Room 16 a couple of hours later; my lower legs are encased in tight anti-dvt stockings and a wrap-around pack of air pockets, fitted up to a pump which inflates/deflates the pockets every 45 seconds. The pump is noisy but my lower leg muscles get a massage! The bed is one where, with a few inadvertent touches of the control panel, you could completely disappear as the foot end comes up at the same time as the head end, and you’re bent in the middle  ….. and the panic button is for some reason just out of reach.

Gary comes in to explain the physiotherapy support programme and some immediate do’s and don’ts. Gary is the chap whose head I almost knocked off when, on my first private visit to the Radius Clinic in April, he did his initial assessment. After the history take he asked me to lie down on the couch.

Raise your left leg.” he commanded, leaning over the table, and my body. Yoga is well known for developing joint flexibility, and being ex-army I instinctively had to lift it quickly and er sharply; nothing wishy washy here!! Caught Gary on the temple huh! He remembers!

So now this is post-op and he wants me to understand how to stand up without ripping the stitches in my back. After a few moments I’m on my pins for the first time since the anesthetist’s assistant asked me to lie on the trolley this morning; Gary’s standing beside me holding the two milk-bottle like things into which stuff occasionally dribbles from the operational area. I’ve written ‘stuff’ because I am sure no further inspection or description is necessary.

Ok. Now we are going to walk to the (en-suite!) bathroom. Do you want a hand?”

Male pride? Male stupidity? Male stubbornness? No way! “Let me try on my own.” (I should have recalled the fact that a chum, in a similar situation after a hip operation, stepped boldly forward …….. fell flat on his face, had severe delayed concussion weeks later ……. and hasn’t really been 100% right since then!) Well I didn’t fall but a quick look at Gary’s face suggested he had thought I would. So, the ‘soft shoe shuffle’ so beloved of literationalists and get to the bathroom, do what was necessary with a modicum of decency but actually more like the dance of the still-connected draining bottles ….. and reverse the process back into bed.

Time compresses. My delayed ‘mid-morning snack’ arrived at 1300, my lunch at 1430 and my mid-afternoon tea & cake (very yummy!) at 1600 ……. and I am expected to eat dinner at 1800. Spoilt you might think and rightly so!

My nurse for the day made a fascinating comment during some banter before going for surgery. The Montefiore Hospital also shares it facilities and surgeons with the NHS in an attempt to reduce the latter’s backlog. He has observed that over the years those coming in as patients under their company health insurance cover, or ‘self-paying’ as I was, are more organised, plan the post-op support needed at home, have a more self-sufficient frame of mind and are more thoughtful than those the State is funding, who just don’t appear to think about anything they can do … expecting the State to do all their thinking for them. We need a national course in self-education, self-reliance, a weaning off, taking responsibility where possible for their own health, welfare, etc.  Rant over!

So Saturday late morning I am discharged with some painkillers and notes from the physiotherapist. “Don’t sit down for more than 15 minutes at a time. Walk as much as you can.

There you have it, pain free after three months. Thank God I had a choice.

Richard 16th/17th June 2017

PS Montefiore? Obviously the ‘mountain of flowers’ but a name taken by Sephardic Jews from Morocco and Italy who excelled as diplomats and bankers.

PC 98 Europe in, er, 15 days?

Cousin Teresa was being serious when we saw her in Sao Paulo back in February (see PC 91). She wanted to take her son to Europe, to ‘show him Europe’, and she had 15 days holiday. We had a similar conversation a couple of weeks later with a great friend in Rio de Janeiro who had the same idea! Same idea and same time-frame. I was reminded of that joke about American tourists ‘doing Europe’. As they got off the coach in a large city, one turned to the other and asked: “Where are we?” His companion consulted her itinerary and responds: “It’s Tuesday so it must be Brussels.”

We are so, so lucky, living in an age when travel is comparatively easy, reasonably affordable and moving from A to B quick. Did you realise, for instance, the cost of air travel has halved in the last thirty years? Those of you who read PC 44 will understand that to get to Alaska in 1900 George had to train to Liverpool, get a boat to New York, train to Winnipeg and then across Canada to Seattle, before taking the ferry to Skagway and his onwards journey overland to Dawson City. His total A – B was 6 weeks, which included 3 weeks to Seattle; we flew there in just under 10 hours!!

Certainly in the 19th and maybe first half of the 20th centuries tourism was only available to the rich; before then it was probably a strange concept!! The Grand Tour was an essential part of one’s education if you were wealthy, visiting the cultural hotspots of Europe’s capital cities before going to university. Now of course anybody who has some time and some money can do it. And if you live here in the UK, you can drive, fly, train, cycle across The Channel so easily and go often – lunch in Paris anyone?? But if you don’t ……

The Swiss Alps

The Swiss Alps

When someone says ‘Europe’ I wonder what that means to them. Is it the buildings, the physical shape of history so visible in every country? Incidentally did you know that Warsaw was completely rebuilt after the Germans flattened it in 1944? Is it the smell of the place, like when get off an airplane in say Singapore and are greeted by the ‘smell’ of South East Asia? Is it the history of the place, so influential in the development of the world as we know it? Oh! I know the Chinese invented gunpowder and silk and chop sticks etc etc and having a European centric view is passé but if it hadn’t been for Columbus, Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama, Cook   …… and the Europeans who went out to conquer, settle, invade, subjugate …… what sort of world would we have today? Is it the culture, oozing out of every European pore? Or the geography …. from the Nordic fjords to the Mediterranean coasts, from the wild Atlantic through the Alps to the Black Sea and the border with Asia?

Nowadays if you want to ‘see’ Europe you could just as well go online and virtually visit anywhere. Open up Goggle Maps and have a virtual drive through the Brenner Pass. Rijks Museum? Not a problem …. http://www.rijksmuseum.nl would you do it ….. and off you go, exploring the works of Rembrandt and Van Dyke ……. from the comfort of your chair ….. and not costing a penny. But that’s cheating? Is it? Instant gratification without any cost – sounds like the C21st to me.

So the question is, where would you plan to go and what would you hope to see with a limited time budget – 15 days? Europe is small and extremely crowded, about the same size as, say, Australia …….

FullSizeRender (1)

….. but the distances are more doable and transport easy.

Many years ago when family were visiting from New Zealand, having collected them from Heathrow Airport we drove into central London before going home. It was nighttime and suddenly there was Buckingham Palace, down The Mall into Trafalgar Square with a floodlit Nelson on top of his column, and at the end of Whitehall Big Ben, physically there, reaching up into the dark sky. You could see the excitement on the faces of both children and adults as they looked out of the car windows. Personally I remember the first time I went to the Louvre museum in Paris …… and stood before the Mona Lisa …… or in Sienna Cathedral staring at the wonderful sculpture by Michelangelo La Pietà ……. and went all goose-pimply because here it was, in front of me, not just some photograph from a glossy magazine.

Fifteen days huh. First time ever? Seven cities/countries – two days each? The must visit list could include London, Paris, Rome & Firenze, Berlin (I’ve never been as it was behind the Iron Curtain when I did my travels in Europe), Vienna (small and compact) and maybe Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum!). But what about the cradle of civilization, Greece, or the Scandinavian countries, or Britain’s oldest ally, Portugal? And if we are talking about the whole of Europe, the capital cities of the old Warsaw Pact countries, the beauty of Bucharest or Bratislava or Budapest must feature, surely? And what about the Baltic States? Or more ‘modern’ destinations like Prague and Barcelona, although they have become victims of their own success at drawing the tourists? If we’re still talking about Europe, then Istanbul must feature? And of course the trouble with a rushed crowded schedule is half the time is spent on a train, in a car, on an airplane, or just waiting at the airport for the latter, to get from A to B; packing, unpacking, packing!

So you get a flavour, a sense of the greatness of this area of the world, for that’s all you can do in fifteen days. Promises are no doubt also made, for it simply whets the appetite for a return trip, when time and money are more flexible.  But come you surely must, if only for fifteen days!

Richard 4th June 2017

PS I remember the first time I went to Rio de Janeiro and, on the night-time drive in from the airport, saw the floodlit statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado! Wow! No more photographs, there it was.