the awkwardness of Amnesia


Image nicked from:


Do you know that ‘I’ve got it on the top of my tongue’ feeling?   Perhaps you associate it with pub quizzes, when you’re desperately trying to remember name of the actor who played Charlie Fairhead in casualty in the 90s.  Or perhaps your TV trivia is so innate that you only get it watching Mastermind.

Since my brain injury, I get it all the time.  I get it when I try to remember what I had for breakfast, or who I talked to yesterday.  I get it when I try to recall what’s just happened in the novel I’m reading (if the bookmark falls out, I’m screwed).  I even have it when I’m trying to remember what I just read with each child.

On the other hand, I know for a fact that Toddler’s reading book is awesome.  I can’t begin to describe its events or characters, yet my gut is certain that it’s amusing, and that I heartily approve.

My general feelings about a thing are more memorable than the detail, you see.  I know how I feel about a person before I’ve remembered who they are.  This is bad because sometimes I take against people without actually knowing why.  Did they do anything to deserve it?  With retrospective skills like mine, it’s hard to know.

I always worry that I’m inadvertently doing something cringeworthy (I mean, other than posting about my illnesses on the internet).  Recently I ate out with a friend and there was something about her expression when the food arrived.  We were quite far on with our respective meals before she admitted that she didn’t like hers – and I still suspect that I’d forgotten what I had ordered and simply accepted her choice from the waiter.

I didn’t rack my brains any harder on that occasion.  After all, I had already eaten it.  But I was sufficiently embarrassed that the incident is a memory I’ve retained.

Things that I’ve forgotten do sometimes come back later.  Don’t quiz answers always come back to you once the quiz sheet has been handed in?  I try not to let it keep me awake at night, because forgetting, remembering and beating myself up is a mentally knackering business, which mostly seems to happen when I’m supposed to go to sleep.  When I mentioned it to the medical team, they said that I might have fatigue.

So now I attend Fatigue Group.  Fatigue Group!  – I kid you not.  We meet in a centre and sit around on chairs with cups of coffee and a biscuit.  I can’t tell you too much because it’s confidential (‘the first rule of fatigue club is there’s no such thing as fatigue club’) but something about the format makes me think of alcoholics anonymous (Hi.  My name’s Liz and I suffer from fatigue).

Who knew that fatigue group would turn out to be so useful, though?  Despite being mortified to go there, I enjoy meeting other people whose brains fail them too – they help to normalise it and they teach me ways to cope.

Energy levels, I have learned, are a zig-zag graph – up one minute, down the next m.  Its probably the same for anyone.  In neurological repair however, the troughs can get extremely low.  The point is to ‘stop and rest’ before you reach the peak of your activity, to reduce the steep rebound slump that’s bound to follow …..

What interested me most was that, the boom-bust diagram on the worksheet draws exactly the same graph as my typical blood sugar trace.   I might wake with too high sugar, take some insulin – it doesn’t work immediately, so take some more – and some more – and suddenly my sugar’s low.

Or else the graph might look headed for sinkage, so I eat (sinkage makes one hungry), and before I know it I’ve scoffed too much – and before I know it, I’m too high again.

Of course, I need to knock these zig-zag graphs out of my life.  STOP EATING after correcting a hypo.  DONT KNOCK blood sugars down with insulin if they just need time to come down on their own.

The same goes for fatigue:  anticipate it.  Rest before the crash.  Rocket science it’s not, but the hardest bit is doing it.  Remembering to be moderate when the moments in it’s heat.

Not my forte.  Which is awkward.  But I’m working on it.   And I’m lucky, because……

Hang on, I’ve forgotten.  Why am I lucky? It was on the top of my tongue….

Oh yes.  I am lucky.  Because I’m loved and supported.  Because there’s still an NHS and I’ve got fatigue club.

Because my wee brain will improve and I will practice until I master it, and all this awkwardness will pass.


Of Nuns and Confused Resolutions




So…… have you broken any New Years Resolutions yet?

Perhaps you are too clever to make them.  I, on the other hand, am self-absorbed and big on self-improvement:  I make some every single year.

And break them, because it’s traditional.  And there’s so much decent food, drink, TV and good company around in January that it would arguably be rude not to.  Which is a shame, because I love the idea of a new, fresh year.  It’s like a field of perfect snow awaiting a single neat line of perfect footprints……




I would have preferred, here, to find a stock photo showing the footprints disappearing into a massive, concealed pond.  On the other side of the pond would be a muddy mess where I climbed out – with clod-hopping, muddy, bloody footprints limping away.

Familiar TV is easiest on my poor brain, hence I’m watching the DVDs of Call The Midwife.  To my horror, the character I most identify with is suddenly Sister Monica Joan.  If you don’t watch, she’s the senile elderly nun.  When there are biscuits involved she’s remarkably astute, but often she’s away with the fairies.

I don’t want to identify with Monica-Joan, but I don’t have much in common with Trixie:




Trixie wouldn’t go to people’s houses and say:  ‘Have we come here for dinner or are we supposed to be going home?’

She wouldn’t ask after people who’ve died, or avoid asking after people in case they’ve died, which I do now.  I worry about calling people by the wrong name and wince when I ask questions in case they’ve already told me the answer.  I’ve occasionally voiced opinions only to realize half-way through that they haven’t  actually been my opinions for years.  I’ve disagreed with plans that five minutes before, I had been enthusiastically advocating.

However, unlike Sister Monica-Joan, my prognosis is good and I’m fast improving.  A few months ago I would not have remembered the events in the previous paragraph, but now it’s surprising what comes back, with rumination.  Lost memories suddenly pop into my head from nowhere, like answers to cryptic crossword clues…….

I wish (about cryptic crossword clues).  But anyway, I had a train of thought going.

Resolutions.  Tracks in 2018s snow-field.

I’m won’t be aiming for perfect footprints.  Think, mud and slush, and a lot of doubling back.  The odd mess in the snow where I fall over, forget what I’m doing and make a snow-angel.

Had I resolved to leave perfect footprints, the resolution would be broken by now.  There have been days when I haven’t managed to leave the house;  a run where I completely forgot to take hypo-sweets and another where I forgot I was running to a set place to meet my family, and went on a different run instead.

But I knew in advance not to pick anything too results-focused.  The tracks might suddenly run up to a brick wall;  that’s got to be okay.  They can always come to a complete stop, double back on themselves and run at the wall again, and get over it this time, and into another field.

But what metaphorical wall or snow-field to choose?  What direction did I want to go?  It’s hard to know what  to focus on when you feel useless and have poor memory.  How the hell should I go about making resolutions?

There were so many ways in which I wanted to be better.  I flitted about like an untrained springer spaniel amongst pheasants, undecided which one to chase until all of them had got away.

It’s my leading characteristic, you see.  I’m the sort of person who likes to juggle lots of balls in the air, rather than throwing any particular ball very high.   Yet I needed to choose just one ball and build up…..

A few days in, I picked exercise.  When I’m working, I always moan that I don’t get enough.  I spent January prioritizing running and yoga.  I’m getting fitter and that’s nice.

But my blood sugar keeps ballsing up, so that’s February taken care of:  exercise with better blood sugars.  Except that I’m sick to the back teeth of yelling at the kids – i don’t believe in it and it’s making me miserable.  And I keep changing my mind as to which one is most important (good blood sugar equals better mood with the kids, you see).  Perhpas I’ll try both at the same time.

SO that’s February and March:  continue the exercise, and conquer sugar and shouting.  Focus on both of them together.

As for April…..

…….Oh, bugger April.

One or two muddy footprints at a time.





Actually all Around

Image result for love actually
picture pinched from:  Love Actually

Modern medicine (and the NHS) enable many survivors of brain injury and psychological disease to lead surprisingly normal lives.  The doctors sound cautiously positive about mine.

But meanwhile it’s hard, as I told everyone over Christmas.  And I do mean everyone: extended family, friends (I can’t thank you guys enough),  teachers at school, innocents out for a jog, the pub waiter, a librarian…

I’m trying out new labels, you see.  I’ve stepped outside the satisfying ‘good veterinary surgeon’ box, outside the ‘contributing family member’ box and occasionally outside the ‘good parent’ one.  And given that the confusion isn’t going to improve overnight or kill me, ‘confused’ and ‘ill’ are suddenly my identity.

How insulting!  Because I’m not ill!  Other patients in hospital needed frames to walk or ate only mushy food, but not me!

An older guy in neuro rehab explained  that he wasn’t an ‘ill person’ either, although he looked it from where I sat.  We talked about our respective careers;  he was a scientist and his research sounded – clever.  And lifesaving.

The mother in the next bed (post car-crash) was a nurse.  And even the nurses on duty had lives outside that place.  And two of them were Type 1 diabetic.

Nobody is just an ‘ill person,’ or a ‘nurse’ or a ‘relative,’ you see.  Nobody is just here to be an extra in a two-dimensional film of my diabetic life.  Ill people have lives and achievements;  hospital staff get ill;  at the time this was an epiphany.

Then came epiphany number two – that a lot of the useful, active ‘normal’ people I know in real life are actually ill-people too.  I’ve lost count of how many friends and family reminded me that they are struggling with something;  illnesses such as chronic fatigue, depression, arthritis, diabetes, anorexia, heart disease; cancer.  But we are not our illness any more than we are our sexuality or nationality or race;  we are people.

Which brings me to one person in particular;  a family friend, known in our household for her sharp wit, wry observations, formidable intelligence and good advice.  She says that she can only recommend endurance and sends me knitting materials;  I don’t know if she’d heard about the trouble I’ve had knitting an elephant, but the wool is beautiful and the note accompanying it recommends that I start with scarves.

She is pleased when I tell her that I’d forgotten she was ill;  like me, she doesn’t want her illness to be her defining characteristic.

But neither does she trivialise it:  survivors of illness aren’t just the superficial feel-good stories you find in crappy newspapers:  ‘I beat such-a-disease, by being positive every day.’   Illness and disability can be isolating and difficult;  frustrating and maddening to live with, as at least some people reading this will know.  It’s ridiculous to expect anyone – but most of all ourselves – to be high achieving, super-strong and invincible in such situations.

I’m afraid I cant remember her words, but I have taken inspiration.  Enjoy what you can do, and be nice to people;  I am enjoying knitting this scarf.  I am also running, doing yoga and watching DVDs.   My scarf is growing and I’ve seen Love Actually a record number of times this Christmas.  I cry for the wee boy at his mothers funeral every single time.

And that brings us nicely back to the subject of illness.  Illness is – actually – all around.  But the good news is, that so are tools to help us:  strength, humanity and…..






Bionic Liz

Two days ago, I went to the hospital with my glucometer, thus:




and walked out with a constant glucose monitor.  This magic device measures my blood sugar not five or six times a day, but all day long, every few minutes.  It also draws a graph:




An alarm goes off if my sugar is about to go too high or too low, and when I check back I can see exactly when (and therefore why) it happened.

Even better, the electronics taped to my abdomen are conveniently small:

IMG_6479 (1)


It’s the technology, not the tummy, that’s up for discussion by the way.  The CGM (that checks my glucose all day) is on the left.  It has a short, palsticky tip that goes under my skin.  The tube on the right’s from the pump, that constantly puts insulin in.  I am a middle-woman between them – I check the trace and tell the pump what I’ve eaten (so that it can work out how fast to pump).  It helps to cut the guess-work:  rather than an isolated number (my blood sugar is 5.6) there’s a trend arrow on the phone app. (and stable / climbing slowly / falling fast).  Thus I can see what effect my activity and food are having in real-time and what to eat, or what insulin to take, to keep it stable.  Even if I’m not watching the trace (and why wouldn’t I be? – it’s fascinating) the alarms should minimize the chances of me hypoing ….

On one level this is very exciting.  On the down-side, it’s hard to shake off the idea that I no longer exist on my own.  I feel slightly like a lab-rat, wired up to lots of equipment, which I ‘need’;  if there was a big natural or political disaster, I’d be scrabbling to get hold of insulin, but also my pump, oodles more bits of specialised plastic and my phone.  The complexity of my requirements is ever increasing….. there is no doubt that I’d be dead in the natural world.

And then there is the more immediate problem:  remembering how to use the thing.  I can say, with my fingers tightly crossed, that the phone app. is intuitive.  I can only hope that I have instructions for changing the sensor extremely carefully written down…..



The Trouble with Humans

Sure, there are other species with impressive intelligence:  David Attenborough recently demonstrated an octopus using tools.

But not as clever as us:  the octopus couldn’t have made a film.  They don’t teach that in Octopus Elementary School.

Humans, you see, are unbelievably clever.  But we are undoubtedly stupid, too.  Our cleverest people can show, beyond reasonable doubt, that climate change is escalating.  We can use our technology to transmit this information around the world.  And yet….

(INTERRUPTION TO WHISPER: I’ll say something happy soon.

 Meanwhile, I DARE you not to go:  ‘Oh Gawd, climate change,’ and click the cross at the top of the screen.

Although, it’s tempting to click away, isn’t it?  I’ve taken to switching Blue Planet off before the end, so I miss the bit when Sir David makes me feel very sad.

Instead, I convince myself ‘it won’t really happen,’

Or ‘I can’t do anything about it’ (although,  if we got together, we could)

Or:  ‘My current life is more important,’ which is obviously bollocks too.  Because we can’t really live without Oxygen on Earth, can we…?

But wait! – I promised to change the subject.

To another splendid issue that no-one wants to talk about:  the decline of our own bodies.  More immediate than Climate Apocalypse (I hope so, anyway) and trickier to lay at the feet of Donald Trump.  Our bodies are as vital to our personal survival as the Earth, yet we are programmed to abuse those too.   

I blame Evolution, myself.  Evolution’s too damned slow.  We have evolved to seek high-energy food when the opposite would be more useful.  In fact, evolution is barely happening at all, thanks to our healthcare; folk like me with bodies that would naturally be incompatible with life (placenta previa, Type 1 diabetes), are managing to pass our (otherwise obviously awesome) genes on.

Our primitive brains still crave the old advantages: children, food, comfort, nice things and group status.  And though we are clever enough to understand intellectually that we are ruining our bodies / world if we keep doing what we’re doing, our primitive brain hasn’t managed to keep up.

We crave the good life so much that we don’t stop doing it. Is it a hopeless business?  If we won’t listen to the experts to override our instincts to improve the health of our own bodies, I wonder if we will ever listen about saving the Earth.

And that’s why climate deals are one of the most important issues in the world, you see:  individuals desperately need forcing to comply.

Solutions on a post-card, meanwhile normal, happy posts will resume in the New Year.

PLEASE do your personal best with both the climate and your personal health this Christmas.

A very bloody Merry One to You.

Image result for amazing christmas octopus






Another Percy

IMG_6407 (1)


The Percy Pud, our local 10K, is popular;  finishers get seasonal desert.  I’ve blogged about it previously, but didn’t enter this year, being ill.

I had been out of hospital for a few weeks, when the Facebook market in second-hand places began.

The race, apparently, was tomorrow.

Gulp.  But hey – I probably could….

‘I’m sure you can,’ hubby agreed, ‘But I’m not sure you can navigate to the start.’

‘Course I can.’

Sounds simple, no?  Its not very far from our house.  Route to start-line into phone;  phone on charge.  Full running kit; write list; check eighty times.  Then I got something in my eye.  It itched like hell.  I fell to sleep with the ball of one hand pushing against my eyeball.

The next morning, my eye was glued to my palm with green slime.  My sclera looked disgusting, but the pain had gone.

I decided not to run.  I strode up and down for ages, trying to decide for definite, and decided not to run again.  Then I changed my mind.  Hunted round the house, checked everything I needed eighty times more, worried about the route.  Picked up the phone, squinted at it, started walking.  This was tricky:  the run was no-where near where I’d remembered.  But I merged with a parade of walking runners, some in costume, and followed them.  We came to a standstill outside a marquee.  I left my fleece by the third tent-pole to the left of the entrance, and wrote that down.

Then I looked at the sea of runners.  There were things happening everywhere – an overwhelming Where’s Wally? scene.  Suddenly, I couldn’t work out what to do next.

Someone explained that I have a clever sort of chip – on the back of my number, see? – and that I needed to wear the number;  ask in the tent for pins.

‘Right.  Thankyou.’

To the pin-person:  ‘Where’s the start?’


‘Where exactly?’

‘You stand next to the marker for the time you think you’ll run.’

Oh yeah!  I knew that, didn’t I!  But – How long does it take me to run 10K?????????

I didn’t ask that.  I’m forgetful, not stupid.  I looked back on Facebook at guessed an hour.  The people standing around me didn’t look intimidatingly fit.  In fact, they didn’t even look intimidating.  Okay, then.  I walked forward.  55 minutes.

There were some awesome costumes, but I can’t remember now what they were.  At some cue, the crowd began to shuffle.

Last time, running was the hard part.  This time, it was the part I knew how to do:  run.  Stay with the marker.  It was getting uncomfortable but it wouldn’t be forever.  After a very long time, we were on the home downhill.  With energy to speed up! – smugness.

The cheesy brass band made me feel quite elated.  I even remembered where to pick up my stuff.  But – oh shit – how was I meant to get home?

The story doesn’t end brilliantly.  Hubby and I found each other.  We were meeting family at the sculpture park.  The kids sang loudly in the car.  The conjunctivitis got worse and I got grumpy.  I lasted half the day with my family, then went for a rest in the car again.

Except – I didn’t make the car.  I’d bloody forgotten where we’d parked.  I wandered round lost for a while, then, after what seemed like hours, bumped back into the family, even shorter-tempered than before.

But let’s not focus on that.

A message came.  I’d done the Percy Pud in about fifty-seven minutes.  Better than last year, apparently.

Small victories.




Being More…..


“Remember:  the buzz-word is ‘moderation’,” one of my nurses said on discharge.

Moderation?  Really?  Not my kind of buzz-word it’s not.

Moderate people are not bright or stupid, tall or short.  They’re not sarcastic, laughably polite, or known for their interesting facial expression.  Moderate people don’t get carried away with mad ideas to change the world.  They wouldn’t make big romantic gestures, or spend whole weekends having sex.  Not that I’d want a weekend of sex with a ‘moderate’ person.  It’s the slightly immoderate characteristics that make a person shine.

I went for a run on my own.  The freedom made me ecstatic.  I ran with abandon until I could suck no more air into my lungs.  I was soon too knackered to continue, and less than a mile from home.

A friend later reminded me that real runners go slowly, which is how they keep moving.  I tried it and it worked.  When I finally remembered to turn around and go back, I’d already gone far too far..

Perhaps it’s better to run with someone.  I can go much slower and get further with a friend.  Eventually, the plan starts working:  and when you forget everything you don’t run out of conversation.



Regulating my yoga-practice presents similar challenges.  One night in a back-room at the rehab centre, I suddenly clocked that I’d missed dinner doing sun-salutes.  My body was sore and my sugar rock bottom.

Next time, I followed an online class.  Until Lesley Fightmaster said lightly:  ‘you can take a downward dog instead, if that’s too big a stretch.’  She obviously didn’t intend the poor memory-less sucker watching it to feel patronized, pause the tape and practice ‘just one more time,’ and then again several times more because they forgot to stop.   I forgot to repeat it quite so much on the other side, and ended up hypoglycaemic and particularly tight in just one ass-cheek.

Hubby found us a real-life class.  It’s full of people older than us, and includes boring things like sitting properly, warming up and mindful breathing.  When you’re in a class, you can’t skip the boring bits.  You pay attention to your breath, just like they tell you to.  I’d forgotten that yoga was supposed to be relaxing.  The class gives me tightness in all the right places, and a kind of happy, yogic glow.

So moderate exercise is achievable.  Now:  what about parenting?  Tiddler’s homework was to make a model animal.  We had toilet-roll tubes, small boxes and brown and yellow paint.

‘Look!’  I showed him.  ‘What animal can we make?’

‘A dinosaur!’

Not what I’d had in mind, but I had sudden inspiration for a fabulous dino- tail.

Tiddler had a different plan.

‘But that’s rubbish,’ I told him.  ‘Look.  Brachysaurus was actually shaped like this….’

This ‘discussion’ went on awhile.  It got louder and climaxed with Mummy at the top of her voice, like a – well, like a Toddler, actually.  Then I went to bed thoroughly ashamed of myself, for not having had the mental agility to back down.

‘Are you going to read your reading book?’ I asked him another time.


Yes!’  I said, and he read it very well.

‘Now,’ I said, ‘You got a word wrong there.  Will you read that word for me again?’

Tiddler did, and got it right.

‘Good.  No, let’s go from – (shit, I’ve forgotten where we’re up to) – from the top of the first page?’

That’s when he kicked the book from out of my hands.

Overkill with everything:  perhaps that’s how Mummy’s going to be from now on.  People with strong opinions and poor mental flexibility annoy me:  I must equally annoy other people now.

There’s a way to deal with it, however.  I think I’m going to have to be quite kind to myself, you know?  Maybe – just floating an idea here – take some rests.  Not push myself too hard.  Look for moderate options, or something like that.

Moderate options.  Moderation.  Yes:  I think that’s it.

Moderation.  It can be my new buzz-word.