Goodbye, Sister Morphine

Here I lie in my hospital bed
Tell me, sister Morphine, when are you coming round again?
Oh, I don’t think I can wait that long
Oh, you see that I’m not that strong

(Lyrics by Richards, Faithful, and Jagger)

It is 2019 and I am still recovering from surgery that I had some nine months ago. This is actually the second time that I have had this particular procedure, the first was in June 2010, just before the World Cup kicked off. Back then the pain management offered was simply woeful. The strongest painkiller that I was prescribed was Codeine, which simply was not sufficient when I was required to fracture the bones in my foot up to six times a day. When my surgeon told me in 2017 that I needed to have this surgery again I did worry about handling the pain. Things have changed, however, but I am not sure if the are for better or worse.

Immediately after my surgery in April, 2019, I was prescribed both Longtec and Shortec to help manage the resultant pain. Both medicines contain Oxycodone hydrochloride, an opioid that contains morphine. The Longtec is a slow release version taken twice a day at twelve hour intervals, and the Shortec is quick release. I directed to take the latter four times a day. Both drugs were supplied in 10mg doses.

Fixator

My Ilizarov Frame, aka the External Fixator

Initially, these painkillers worked very well. They suppressed the worst of the pain in the first few weeks, especially when I was making adjustments to the external fixator that was holding the bones of my foot together. This wonderful device allows the patient to fracture the bones to promote new bone growth. It also allows the surgeon to influence the development of the bone so as to turn a deformed foot, like mine, into something that looks more normal and sits flat to the floor. The problem with these drugs, however, is that being morphine based they can become addictive if the patient continues to use them after the pain has subsided. This is what happened to me.

I wanted to come off these painkillers but I found myself being frustrated by the fact that the surgery was not working. In early September, 2018, I went to see my surgeon expecting to agree a date for the removal of the frame, but he told me that my foot was not healing properly and that I needed a bone marrow transplant. In turn that meant continuing with the Longtec and Shortec as there would be fresh discomfort to deal with. Then, in late November, I had to have a third bout of surgery to replace all of the rods that held my foot together. I had actually broken one of them by walking on the foot, which was made difficult due the acute angle of the lower ring that progressed past my heel. I think that, in retrospect, this contributed to my foot not healing as walking on it is a necessary part of that process. I had asked the surgeon to replace the lower ring with one that was more horizontal in September but he had dismissed it, now he accepted that it had to be done to help facilitate recovery. Again, this meant continuing with the Longtec and Shortec.

Immediately after surgery I resolved to take myself off the opioid painkillers as soon as possible. They were causing me all kinds of problems. My appetite was poor and I was only putting weight back on very slowly after each bout of surgery. I was falling asleep in the afternoon but finding it difficult to sleep on a night. I had headaches, mood-swings, constipation, and dizziness as well. These were all recognised side-effects of these particular drugs. I should have had a review of my situation by my GP, but they were disinterested in my situation. In fact, in they continuously failed to fill my repeat prescription requests on time throughout the entire period. I had no faith in them as a primary healthcare provider. Even submitting a formal complaint did not change anything; they promised me a medical review but I am still waiting for it to happen!

I decided to go it alone.

First, I reduced the Longtec from two a day to one. Then I increased the interval in-between dosages from twelve hours to twenty-four. As I was still taking the Shortec this reduced the withdrawal symptoms. Once I had finished with the Longtec I started the same process with the Shortec. At first this proved relatively easy with only mild withdrawal symptoms, however, once I got to only two dosages a day I started to struggle. I began to experience anxiety attacks, bouts of being too hot and then shivering with cold, insomnia, and muscle pain. I used standard paracetamol as a placebo and this certainly helped. After a couple of days on a single dosage only I decided to stop altogether. This was neither easy nor recommended, but I had made my mind up.

Initially, I experienced heightened withdrawal symptoms that were so uncomfortable that I found myself contemplating taking a Shortec tablet just to offset them. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed at three in the morning having a discussion about this with myself. I was sweating profusely even though the night air was cold. The temptation to take the Shortec was almost irresistible but I defeated it by concentrating on the thought that once I had cleared the drug from my system then I could start driving again. I love driving and I had missed not being able to go out in my car for nine long months. That thought kept me going.

The second and third nights were also great struggles, but I got through them. Once I reached the fourth day without the opioid things started to improve if only gradually, but every day after that it all got much easier. My appetite returned and I began to sleep better. The anxiety and muscle-pain receded. By the seventh day I was feeling so well that I knew it had been worth the effort. The only disappointment was knowing that this could have been avoided if my GP had taken an interest in my medical situation and offered to help me get off the very drugs that they were so reluctant to dispense to me in the first place.

I have a fourth and final surgical procedure to face; the removal of the external frame itself. I do not intend to go back onto the opioids post-surgery. My foot and leg will be encased in a plaster-cast for a few months and I am told that I have a high pain threshold, probably because I have always lived with chronic pain. Since having the external fixator fitted I have attended a weekly clinic for patients. Over the months the problems caused by using Longtec and Shortec for extended periods, and particularly when the pain has receded during the healing stage, has been a constant topic of conversation between us. Some people have been able to stop using the opioids very quickly, others have not. None of those that I talked to have said that they were able to undergo a gradual withdrawal with their doctor’s assistance. Considering how addiction to painkillers is now recognised as a serious problem it seems ridiculous that the use of a drug based on morphine, which is known to be highly addictive when patients are not experiencing pain, goes unmanaged. I consider myself lucky. I had the strength to get through the withdrawal process, not everyone else is so lucky.

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Stan & Ollie (2018)

stan and ollie

As biographical films go this movie achieves a clever launch of the story of Laurel and Hardy. It begins with the pair informing the audience all about their lives in 1937 as they conduct a conversation while making their way to the set of their latest film, ‘Way Out West’. It is a very clever means of delineating the characters of Stand and Ollie, their various relationships, and, without doubt, the most important theme of the story, their friendship. After filming their famous dance scene for ‘Way Out West’ the film jumps forward in time and finds the pair older, poorer, and about to book into an unattractive hotel in Newcastle, England, prior to beginning their final tour of Britain and Ireland. Their opening night is little better, the is not the premier venue in the city and is barely half-full.

With both Stand and Ollie looking as old and tired as their environment this film could very easily have descended into bathos, instead director Jon S. Baird chooses to follow the Laurel and Hardy method of comedy by concentrating on the small interactions and ignoring the bigger picture. Their entrance into the Newcastle hotel is quite simply a Laurel and Hardy comedy sketch complete with Ollie’s wearied look into the camera. It is, however, barbed with a note of reality, as many of their meetings with British fans prove to be throughout the tour, that act as reminders that time has marched on and fate has not been kind to their memory as they might have wished. Stan and Ollie are not given to self-pity, however. They are seasoned professionals who have worked hard all of their lives and they love entertaining people, even half-full houses. They also share a friendship that has lasted over 30 years and this is the bedrock of both their professional and personal relationships. It is not perfect, despite appearances, but it is remarkably strong. Even though the pair are heading towards the end of their professional lives, and they clearly understand this even if they do not wish to admit to it, it is their friendship that sees them through the trials of getting old and finding a way into the hearts of their audience other than by making yet another film. The end of their long career is coming but it is not all sadness because what Stan and Ollie have is a deep affection and respect for each other that turns ‘Stand & Ollie’ into a beautiful film in its own right.

The actors, Steve Coogan as Stan and John C. Reilly as Ollie, are so good that as the story develops they seem to be Stan and Ollie. It is quite remarkable. I do not think that I have seen another biopic in which I forgot that I was watching an actor play another living person, especially two that I have enjoyed watching for so long myself. The mannerisms, the speech, the looks, the subtle interactions, are all close to being perfect. This is acting of the highest degree. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly do not ask the audience to suspend their disbelief, they seduce them into doing so by being entirely believable. This is not some great drama or highbrow review of intellectual concepts, it is an examination of the human condition as seen through the trials, tribulations, highs and lows of two friends.

‘Stan & Ollie’ illustrates what it was that made these two entertainers so special. Although they receded from public life, like so many other entertainers who grow old and find that the powers that be in Hollywood no longer have a use for them, Laurel & Hardy have survived. Their brand of humour remains influential, entertaining, and relevant. It is about two friends trying to make their way in an uncaring world and what could be more inspirational than that? Throughout their cinematic legacy Stan and Ollie get repeatedly knocked down but always got up again. With childish optimism they continued trying to succeed. That philosophy appears to have been a part of their actual lives as well. It is definitely a part of this movie and provides the uplift at the conclusion. You cannot help but smile as the credits roll and Stan and Ollie perform their ‘Way Out West’ dance one more time.

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Not Another New Year’s Resolution?

Nope. I gave up New Year’s Resolutions many years ago. I can remember listening to a discussion on the subject on the radio in which someone pointed out that this whole making a resolution for the New Year had become meaningless because it had become socially acceptable to break the resolution within a matter of weeks. Also, there seemed to be a top ten of such promises to self, along the lines of ‘lose weight’ or ‘read more books’ or ‘drink less’. For the most part they were nothing more than good intentions.

On consideration of that point I stopped participating in the seasonal making a promise just to break it activity and went for making resolutions as and when I need them. In such instances I make the resolution something that is achievable and of benefit to me. Back in April, 2018, I made a resolution to get through the then imminent surgery; it is one that I am still waiting to achieve. At the time it all seemed quite sensible as I was given a three month recovery period. That changed to six months and is now a little over nine. A lot of thing have gone wrong in that period and not very much seems to have gone right.

At the end of November I underwent yet another surgical procedure that was aimed at helping me walk better while still wearing the external fixator. The actual surgery went well, I was only in hospital for one night. The position of the lower ring means that my foot now sits flat to the floor, which does make walking more natural and more stable. Unfortunately, as we approached Christmas I suffered another infection and had to go onto antibiotics, which did not agree with me and seemed to make me feel even worse. Celebrating my favourite holiday certainly proved to be more of a chore than I had expected. Even without the infection I was still pretty much the invalid, unable to help with putting up the holiday decorations for example. I had a lot of time to just sit and ponder things and one of the subjects that came to mind was my writing, or rather the lack of it.

Another resolution that I set myself back in April was to finish my fantasy novel, but that most certainly has not happened. I understand why, the months have not been a slow but steady period of recovery from the initial surgery. They have, in fact, been a rather constant battle to recover ground lost to infections, pins breaking, and further surgery. The emotional toll has been almost as great as the physical. For the last nine months I have been unable to do most of the things that I enjoy doing. I have watched lots of television. Even though I have seen some very good films, documentaries, and light entertainment I have also grown bored with this medium through overexposure. I want to be active again!

I have never been the most active of people due to my disability but this level of lethargy is proving very frustrating. Everything at the moment is a chore. Getting a cup of tea is a health and safety nightmare due to my lack of a decent sense of balance, it being a hot beverage, growing tired too quickly, and so many other factors that never occurred to me previously. It is like this with almost everything and it has stopped me from writing in a similar manner.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for me is that the creative process has not stopped during all of this. I keep getting ideas for new stories. I get excited by them and want to start work but then my current situation intrudes and I find myself putting everything onto the ‘for later’ shelf. Because I have to sit with my leg elevated I find that even on a good day I cannot spend as much time working as I would like to.

However, there is some good news at last. I see my surgeon again in early February and I have been assured that we are going to discuss a date for having the frame removed. It will mean me wearing a plaster cast for at least six months afterwards but I can live with that. I know from previous experience that it is easier to sleep with a removable cast than it is with this frame. In fact, everything will get easier.

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Will This Horror Never End?!

Once more I find that an unplanned gap has occurred between my blog posts. The cause is, has it has been for most of this year, the surgery that I am still recovering from. The fact is that it seems to have failed. My surgeon does not seem to want to admit this, but then he is planning on operating on my for the third time this year in a little under a week. He is going to do the same procedure again in the hope that we might get a different result.

I know that I have the right to refuse any more surgical procedures and I did not consent to the latest proposal without several days of contemplation. I had a simple choice, have a ‘frame break’, which basically means removing the external fixator with a view to fitting it again some time next year, or have the lower ring replaced by one that is actually horizontal and should not interfere with my walking as the current offset ring does. To be honest, I was  leaning towards having the ‘frame break’ and then refusing to have the fixator refitted ever again. Such has been the awful experiences that I have gone through with it this time around.

It was my wife who talked me into trying the new ring instead. She is a nurse so she knows what she is talking about. She is also my wife and she wants to go places and see things with me. I can do that and for much longer if my foot decides to heal. That was the original hope of course, however, it seems to me that we hoping for different results despite repeating the same process and I find it difficult to be inspired by that approach. Nevertheless, I am committed to it now. I hope that this works as I want my next surgery to be the total removal of the external fixator and to never see its like again!

Fixator

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Macbeth (2015)

One enjoyment that recovering from surgery allows me to indulge in is watching movies. I am also a fan of the works of Shakespeare so I decided to watch the 2015 production of the movie ‘Macbeth’ starring Michael Fassbender. I wish I had not.

I think it is right that film versions of Shakespeare’s plays should not feel tied to the stage. Movies offer a much broader perspective for the director and actors to work with. I also think that the use of imagination with regards to the setting is also a benefit. This version of Macbeth appears to take its main visual cue from ‘Braveheart’ only it is not as hairy. Practically every man to be seen sports what my father refers to as a ‘crew cut’ hairstyle, that is, heads almost shaven.

Scotland is represented as a place lacking in light. Almost all of the external scenes are played out in a perpetual fog. When the action moves indoors it is illuminated by candles, literally, making it very difficult to see the actors faces as they go through the rigours of contemplating and committing acts of murder. I am not sure if raising the light level would have improved things, however, as for most of the film everyone just stares vacantly, either at each other or just into space. Lines are delivered mostly in a low monotone with very little use of inflection. The famous ‘is this a dagger I see before me’ scene was played out in almost silhouette, which made me wonder if the Macbeth’s could see anything at all let alone the fateful dagger.

I found this film version of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays entirely disappointing. It was not for the lack of quality in the cast, David Thewliss, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, and Michael Fassbender himself are all accomplished actors. Personally, Justin Kurzel’s direction did not work for me. I simply did not find myself entertained by this version of a play that I have seen many times before. They visual style sucked all the tension out of the drama and the method of delivery failed to inspire an emotional response in relation to the fate of the characters. This film was a long, ponderous journey into a low lit landscape peopled by mud splattered men talking softly, barely changing expression, and waiting for long pauses to develop between lines before making a reply. Bloody, yes, but very dour also.

Macbeth

As a king Macbeth can afford a few more candles but he can’t lighten the mood!

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Why Write if not for the Fun of It!

In September I wrote about Following the Muse and not the Market, suggesting that as a writer I feel more inclined to write what I enjoy than what fills a market niche. I was recently thinking about this topic again and it occurred to me that my last novel, ‘Mesozoic’, very much illustrates that very point.

The whole idea for the book came from a friend, Leoni Roussau, who gave me the simple concept of scientists traveling back in time to studying living dinosaurs. From that one great seed of inspiration came an entire book.

I think that writing ‘Mesozoic’ was relatively easy because it involved several things that I was interested in to begin with. I read books from a very early age and looking back I can see that I had a preference for tales that involved adventure, preferably in exotic locations. I read the ‘Doc Savage’ stories when they were published as paperbacks. For those who do not know about ‘Doc Savage’ he was a crime-fighter from the 1930’s who lived at the top of the tallest skyscraper in New York. He inherited a vast fortune and dedicated himself to finding adventure and stopping maniacal super-villains. He used a series of remarkable gadgets to get himself out of trouble. By today’s standards ‘Doc Savage’ might seem a little naive but for a young lad they were lots of fun. That is what I remember most about reading books like that; they were fun.

As time went on I read more literary tomes and thoroughly enjoyed them, but I have always found that mixing a little light relief with the more heavyweight authors is perfectly acceptable. In fact, I found that it often helped me to appreciate written work even more because I was able to compare contrasting styles and understand the motives of the writers all the more.

For me, as a writer, ‘Mesozoic’ was a little light relief. Although I touch on some environmental issues in the book at heart it is an adventure story in the style of the likes of ‘Jurassic Park’ or ‘Raise the Titanic’ or even ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ and not a serious commentary on the human condition. The book did not require me to do a lot of in-depth research, unlike my ‘Sorrow Song Trilogy’ or ‘Eugenica’, although I did have to work to formulate a viable, hypothetically at least, method of time travel. The dinosaurs were not particularly difficult as I already had an interest and, therefore, a knowledge about them. My prime concern with the dinosaurs was to represent them as believable animals and not the monsters of the ‘Jurassic Park’ movies. Of all of my books so far it was by far the quickest to write and, I have to admit, the most fun.

I am not a full-time writer. I have a day job and I have a wife who likes to see and talk to me. Our children might be all grown up but they are still our children and still make demands on our time, as they have every right to do. These days writing even for the eBook market seems to require more and more time, not the actual writing part but the need to promote the finished book. I understand the argument behind this but the fact remains it is the writing that I enjoy. I would be greatly disappointed if all the fun was to be sucked out of writing. For me it is, I suppose, my hobby. It is what I do in my free time. I like the fact that at the end of it there is something tangible to show for my efforts. It has never brought me in any real money and I do not expect that to change really. I still love writing, however, if I have to spend more time promoting myself and my books than I do actually sat at a keyboard capturing my ideas and living in my imagination then I find it difficult to see why I should continue with it other than for my own enjoyment. I suppose that is the point. I am doing it for my own enjoyment and, hopefully, for the enjoyment of the people who choose to read my books. So long as the fun remains so will I.

27 Finale

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What it is to be Free!

In yet another attempt to increase my readership and, hopefully, garner a few more honest reviews, I am offering all of my eBooks for free download from 2nd to the 6th October through Amazon.

If you wish to find out if my books, which have been the primary subject of this blog since I started it, have been worth all the writing that I have done then please feel free to download one or more of my books.

As suggested in the first paragraph one of the objectives of this campaign is to get more reviews. This has been a constant battle on my part as a writer but for some reason the vast majority of readers do not seem to want to post even a star rating let alone a brief description of what they liked about the story. It is a catch-22 situation in that the more reviews a book gets then the more readers it is likely to attract but very few readers seem to be bothered about posting their comments. There is a school of thought that writers should not concern themselves with reviews but I feel that this only really applies to those who are established with a traditional publisher and agent, for the rest of us every little bit helps.

To be honest I would rather spend my time writing than launching promotion campaigns. I enjoy writing stories. If I could do it for a living then this would be a dream job, however, I have yet to be discovered so it is necessary that I become a promoter as well.

So, if you are at all curious then please have a look at the list of my books. There are my historical fiction novels set in 1066, a `930’s alternate history adventure, and a futuristic technical thriller set in the past! All that I ask is that you do take five minutes just to do me the favour of posting an honest rating and review. It does not have to be a literary essay, just a simple statement of what you liked about my work.

Many thanks in anticipation.

All Books Free Promo 181002

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