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Oscar’s Heart Murmur

May 26, 2016

Last June we took Oscar to the docs for yet another infernal infection, poor mite, and during the routine check of ears, throat, lungs etc the doctor found a heart murmur*.

That moment is etched in my heart forever. All the clichés came true in one fell swoop. Time stood still. It felt like an endless hole had opened up beneath me and I was a heartbeat away from tumbling in. I turned to stone. I was unable to speak. My mind fought between hysteria, panic and total, utter calmness. The calmness won, because my Mom brain took over and said very sternly LISTEN TO THE DOCTOR. So I did. Afterwards, in the car, Pete said I shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. But I don’t even know what questions to ask! I wailed, as the floodgates opened and I sobbed all the way home. I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life.

That fear only lasted a few minutes, as both the doctor and then Pete reassured me how common heart murmurs are in small children. How they can be temporary as a result of inflammations due to very ordinary infections (which little children get A LOT), how they can grow out of them and how, nine times out of ten, they are what is termed ‘innocent’.

That’s as maybe, but for those few moments I felt a fraction of what it must be like to be told your child is very sick. I felt a sudden rush of sympathy for parents of seriously ill children, for whom those few seconds and minutes stretch into days and weeks and even years, if not a lifetime. How on earth do they do it? I can’t even begin to imagine what it takes.

Innocent or not, I need a definitive diagnosis. It is in the back of my mind ALWAYS. When he gets tired, or loses his appetite, I can’t help but wonder, is it related? Is this the first step to a more serious diagnosis? Is there something wrong with my child that I can’t fix?

We are in the system. A referral letter is sent. An appointment will be made with a specialist. We will get to the bottom of this. A definitive diagnosis will be made. This is reassuring. What no-one told me however, is how fucking long this will take. That I will likely wait nine months to A YEAR to even hear back about an appointment, never mind actually attending the clinic or getting results. What the actual fuck?

In December I’m a bit frazzled and, as always, worried about Oscar and this infernal diagnosis. At a GP visit for something else I get him to check and the murmur is still there. Pete agrees that we should get a private appointment and he seeks out a Paediatric Cardiologist for met to contact. It is three days before Christmas and half past five in the evening when we rock up to the 352 Clinic. I don’t actually know what happens but after having a hot chocolate from the very exciting vending machine in the waiting room, and waiting over 40 minutes, Oscar goes mental in the doctor’s office. I mean properly mental. He’s screaming and wriggling, running for the door and refusing in every single way to co-operate in any way whatsoever. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never seen him like this. Was it the hot chocolate? The long wait? The proximity to dinnertime/Christmas? Anxiety about the doctor or the equipment? I have no idea but after 10 – 15 minutes of coaxing, cuddling and a bit of leaning on his legs so the doctor can at least listen to his heart, we all give up.

I could cry. For all sorts of reasons. This was supposed to be my diagnosis, the thing I’ve been nursing for months, the thing I’ve been hoping for and dreading and needing for what feels like forever but is in fact only 6 months. I say only, but in fact 6 months in a three year old’s life is a lot, actually.

It is not to be. He can’t make a full diagnosis without the ECG and the other thing, whatever it is; I can’t seem to make my ears work, I’m so disappointed. He does say it is most likely to be innocent and if pushed, that is what he would say. But he can’t confirm it at this point. So. That’s it.

I’d make another appointment but what if it happens again? I paid £150 for pretty much nothing at all. I can’t do that again. So we wait for the NHS appointment to come through. It’s almost June 2016 and we are still waiting.

Read more here about the NHS waiting list in Northern Ireland.

*A heart murmur is where your heartbeat has an extra, or unusual, sound caused by a disturbed blood flow through the heart.

 

 

 

School Nurse and School Dinners

May 24, 2016

The School Nurse rang me recently. Alfie’s height and weight had been flagged up during her first visit, last year during P1. He was then on the 99th centile for both, so she had requested another appointment and was calling me with the results. She was inordinately relieved to hear that we were well aware of the escalating weight and under the care of Andrea, our Paediatric Dietitian. Interestingly she absolutely jumped on the fact that school dinners were a problem. She became very enthusiastic and said yes, I should absolutely talk to the school about their lunches and yes I must investigate how healthy (or not) they are and I should definitely push for a packed lunch instead. I was quite taken aback, have I stumbled on a thing? Does everyone know that school dinners are pretty diabolical and are they quietly hoping for change? Did the Jamie Oliver revolution never happen? Or perhaps it didn’t reach Northern Ireland? I’m intrigued.

'I saw the school nurse put that sign up.'

I’m also grateful to have a mechanism like the School Nurse to pick up on potential problems. However, on reflection, I am not sure it’s enough. She offered another appointment – next year. Alfie was sent home with an information pack; the same one he got last year. It’s all very well telling me that I need to avoid fizzy drinks and encourage less screen time, but… and I’m glad of the illustration of the food pyramid and portion plate. But really, is that it? Because I had all the information and my child still became overweight. I appreciate I’m possibly not the target audience for this particular brochure but surely a few strategies and a bit more support might help? Thanks to Andrea we have instigated a weekly weigh-in, a food diary and, probably most helpful, discussions and awareness of portion control. Plus, of course, she was the one who highlighted the calorie content of those contentious school dinners. Not only that, I email her weekly and this works (possibly more for me than her) because it makes me reflect on our habits and behaviours and see where we might be going wrong, as it were.

The School Nurse, like so many other things, has been outsourced and centralised. I expect she does what she can with what she’s got. At least she doesn’t have to check for nits anymore. Or does she?

keep_calm_and_listen_to_the_school_nurse_ceramic_ornament-r467c0820cde44fe1956acc93fa4abc61_x7s2y_8byvr_324

Oscar’s Heart Murmur

May 20, 2016

Last June we took Oscar to the docs for yet another infernal infection, poor mite, and during the routine check of ears, throat, lungs etc the doctor found a heart murmur.

That moment is etched in my heart forever. All the clichés came true in one fell swoop. Time stood still. It felt like an endless hole had opened up beneath me and I was a heartbeat away from tumbling in. I turned to stone. I was unable to speak. My mind fought between hysteria, panic and total, utter calmness. The calmness won, because my Mom brain took over and said very sternly LISTEN TO THE DOCTOR. So I did. Afterwards, in the car, Pete said I shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. But I don’t even know what questions to ask! I wailed, as the floodgates opened and I sobbed all the way home. I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life.

That fear only lasted a few minutes, as both the doctor and then Pete reassured me how common heart murmurs are in small children. How they can be temporary as a result of inflammations due to very ordinary infections (which little children get A LOT), how they can grow out of them and how, nine times out of ten, they are what is termed ‘innocent’.

That’s as maybe, but for those few moments I felt a fraction of what it must be like to be told your child is very sick. I felt a sudden rush of sympathy for parents of seriously ill children, for whom those few seconds and minutes stretch into days and weeks and even years, if not a lifetime. How on earth do they do it? I can’t even begin to imagine what it takes.

Innocent or not, I need a definitive diagnosis. It is in the back of my mind ALWAYS. When he gets tired, or loses his appetite, I can’t help but wonder, is it related? Is this the first step to a more serious diagnosis? Is there something wrong with my child that I can’t fix?

We are in the system. A referral letter is sent. An appointment will be made with a specialist. We will get to the bottom of this. A definitive diagnosis will be made. This is reassuring. What no-one told me however, is how fucking long this will take. That I will likely wait nine months to A YEAR to even hear back about an appointment, never mind actually attending the clinic or getting results. What the actual fuck?

In December I’m a bit frazzled and, as always, worried about Oscar and this infernal diagnosis. At a GP visit for something else I get him to check and the murmur is still there. Pete agrees that we should get a private appointment and he seeks out a Paediatric Cardiologist for met to contact. It is three days before Christmas and half past five in the evening when we rock up to the 324 Clinic. I don’t actually know what happens but after having a hot chocolate from the very exciting vending machine in the waiting room, and waiting over 40 minutes, Oscar goes mental in the doctor’s office. I mean properly mental. He’s screaming and wriggling, running for the door and refusing in every single way to co-operate in any way whatsoever. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never seen him like this. Was it the hot chocolate? The long wait? The proximity to dinnertime/Christmas? Anxiety about the doctor or the equipment? I have no idea but after 10 – 15 minutes of coaxing, cuddling and a bit of leaning on his legs so the doctor can at least listen to his heart, we all give up.

I could cry. For all sorts of reasons. This was supposed to be my diagnosis, the thing I’ve been nursing for months, the thing I’ve been hoping for and dreading and needing for what feels like forever but is in fact only 6 months. I say only, but in fact 6 months in a three year old’s life is a lot, actually.

It is not to be. He can’t make a full diagnosis without the ECG and the other thing, whatever it is; I can’t seem to make my ears work, I’m so disappointed. He does say it is most likely to be innocent and if pushed, that is what he would say. But he can’t confirm it at this point. So. That’s it.

I’d make another appointment but what if it happens again? I paid £150 for pretty much nothing at all. I can’t do that again. So we wait for the NHS appointment to come through. It’s May 2016 and we are still waiting.

 

The Nit Kit

May 18, 2016

Well it finally happened – we got the nits innit? I’m surprised it’s taken so long but perhaps sending the boys to a prep school has its advantages after all?

Of course being naïve about nits poor old Oscar had an itchy head for weeks*. My first thought was head lice but every time I checked I couldn’t find anything. A sensible person would at this point have resorted to Google and found out that head lice are notoriously difficult to detect, until the later stages when they are a massive 2mm long and crawling all over your collar. I didn’t even think of going to a pharmacist to ask for help. In the end Pete suggested medicated shampoo – I have a vague recollection of Vosene from my

2016-05-17-12.20.30.jpg.jpg

The Old Nit Kit

younger days but my dear Pa would wash my hair in Fairy liquid so I wasn’t really up on hair stuff. Timotei and Pantene were all that featured in my life for a very long time. In any case a lovely Pharmacist proffered T-Gel (by Neutrogena) and suggested we use it only once a week for 5 weeks and a very mild shampoo at other times. Amazingly this really did seem to work! For a week. Now I am wondering why she didn’t suggest head lice to me, although on second thoughts I was very insistent he didn’t have them. Oh innocent, naïve, stupid hopeful mother!

It was Alfie what dunnit. His were easy to see, though in fairness I only ever found 3 grown up lice on him. But the eggs! Man they are like limpets. Now Alfie has the most glorious hair. Thick, shiny and golden, it is like a halo of hair envy and he likes to wear it long. This is not good when you have to get a nit comb through it. This is not good when you have to get a nit comb through it SEVERAL TIMES.

So I cut his hair off. With his consent. It’s the first time I’ve ever cut anyone’s hair (kids are good like that) and it wasn’t awful. Thing is, I thought I’d got rid of the blighters but to my horror the hairdresser found more. Cue embarrassed mother shuffling out of the salon in shame. I daren’t go back in case there are still signs, hence the home-made haircut. I just couldn’t face another lifetime combing the bloody nits out.

Then I discovered the Gold Standard of headline eradication (Hedrin). Sure it’s expensive, but bloody hell, who has time to do that awful stuff the doctor gives you? Not me. You can have one of my kidneys if you promise we won’t ever get headlice again. All that bloody washing for a start! Opinion varies on

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The Gold Standard Nit Kit

whether you have to boilwash ALL the bedding in the house but I wasn’t taking any chances. So that got done every time we did a treatment. Because you have to do a follow up treatment a week later too. So first treatment, second treatment, another treatment, the follow up treatment and oh FFS.

 

And have you ever tried nitcombing yourself? Now that my hair is bleached it’s akin to carding wool. I’m not wasting another iota of my life doing that again.

Just to be clear, we are all clear. We couldn’t be more clearer. We DO NOT have the nits no more. So if mine come home with nits again, I’m blaming your kids, OK?

Click here to find out how about Detection Combing

*Itching

Head lice often cause a person’s scalp to itch. Itching isn’t caused by lice biting the scalp, but by an allergy to the lice.

However, not everyone is allergic to head lice, so you or your child may not notice a head lice infestation.

Even if someone with head lice is allergic to them, itching can take up to three months to develop.

In some cases, a rash may appear on the back of the neck. This is caused by a reaction to lice droppings.

Mental Health Awareness

May 13, 2016

Did you realise this week is Mental Health Awareness Week?

mental health ribbon

This is the American version – they get a whole month!

Well for starters go and check out the very excellent Jeremy Vine programme on BBC Radio 2. Each day Jeremy is talking about a different topic, such as self harm, anorexia and bipolar disorder. This particular clip is about depression.

Now I am totally biased because I love BBC Radio 2 and I love Jeremy Vine. I also love a good discussion on Mental Health because it continues to surprise me how little we do, talk or provide for mental health in our society. I mean we ALL have mental health of one kind or another, it’s there whether you like it or not, like your physical health. I get that there’s stigma and shame but for goodness sakes, we know that is only because of a lack of knowledge and an ignorance that stems from not talking about it! We are grown ups in the 21st Century, do hurry up and get with the programme. help me im fine

(Isn’t it interesting that the Americans are at the forefront of all things psychological? If there is a new way of thinking, new movements in psychotherapy or definitions of behaviours and methods of therapy, you can be sure it probably came from the States. How is it that a nation so routinely derided for being naïve and um, a bit, well child-like,  should be pioneers of the human mind? In the word of one famous American*; “Fascinating”.)

Recently it was Depression Awareness Week (I’m sure they were aware of the Mental Health Awareness Week coming up.  But are other Awareness Weeks aware of each other at all? Beware Awareness Weeks, before we all start suffering Awareness Fatigue. Oooh, there’s another condition, tick!).

I mention it because of this rather fantastic article which describes depression very well.  I’m shocked by the statistic that 97.5% of the population don’t suffer from depression. What? What are they doing? Did they forget to live life? I have always suspected everyone suffers from depression in varying forms and it’s just the more enlightened of us who admit to it. But perhaps it’s true, there are people out there who don’t get depressed. How odd, I think? What could that possibly feel like? Practically everyone I know has had it, or at least a brush with it, in one form or another. Is it because I hang out with creative folk?** Or is it because I subconsciously seek out fellow ‘sufferers’? Perhaps we have some kind of radar that allows us to gather and connect. Not whilst we’re depressed obviously, because that kind of thing becomes impossible (if not downright distressing).

I have issues with the term ‘suffering from’ too, because although there is certainly a degree of suffering involved in feeling depressed, I don’t spend my life ‘suffering.’ I do have depression; like the herpes virus (condition) it’s in my body forever and like a coldsore (symptom) it is apt to pop up when I least expect it, but when I’ve most likely been neglecting my mental/physical health in some way. Unfortunately the only other word I can think of today is ‘afflicted’ and that really won’t do, because it makes me giggle. “I am afflicted by depression.” Hilarious! Although I might join a group calling themselves The Afflicted. Now that does sound romantic.

In any case, sufferer or not, the writer is right that it is a very unattractive condition. Having been both afflicted and in a relationship with someone who became afflicted, I can attest to that. (I hasten to add that we weren’t both afflicted at the same time, that would be weird).

So, mental health. It’s important. Talk about it, find out about it and do yourself a favour – give yourself a little check up. And listen to Jeremy Vine!

*Sorry, not an American, a Vulcan. Spockha

**This is of course utter bollocks because anyone can suffer from depression but it’s a rather romantic myth that artistic, creative and funny people suffer more than most, like you have to be mad to be a genius and all that guff.

 

Mother Knows Best

April 28, 2016

My mum came to stay last week and it was lovely on so many levels. Being a single mum is hard and going back to work at the same time makes life pretty tough. When one is busy ‘getting on with it’ one forgets how the smallest things can make the biggest difference. Even having another pair of hands to empty the dishwasher was amazing. Having someone wipe the table after breakfast, what luxury! (We do that about every three days around here, I remarked wryly as I saw her swoop on the table, cloth in hand). Coming home to a glass of wine and grown up conversation; being able to discuss what on earth Marcella is up to, going to work without the mindnumbingly endless administration involved in organising childcare. It felt like a holiday! The kids positively blossom with more attention and even the weather was glorious! Finally some sunshine; I think she was wondering why we had decided to settle in the Rainiest Place on Earth, following her last two visits.

She also insisted I try the recipe I got with my FlavourFirst veg box; bacon-wrapped stuffed filet of pork with roast rhubarb, yum! Not that I eschew cooking proper grown up food but it can be disheartening 20160424_180423.jpgwhen your only audience is two ungrateful children with their faddy appetites and tendency to say ‘yuck’ when presented with anything but fishfingers. I exaggerate of course, I’m lucky they like most things but generally the plainer the better. Sigh.

Another fab thing was Mum’s fitness tracker on her phone. Now, I’ve been reading about these on Martin Lewis’s website, as he’s a big fan, so I was keen to see how many steps we were doing per day. Turns out our new route to school racks up 2000 steps, plus another 1800 – 2000 on the return journey (depending on whether you take the shortcut). Which is almost halfway to your daily 10 000 steps and it’s

oooh, fancy

oooh, fancy

not even 9am! Sold! After a smidge of research I decided on a Jawbone24

because it also tracks your sleep and I’d like to know if I’m getting more or less than I think I am. It also monitors the quality of your sleep and how many times, if any, you wake up during the night. Awesome. Hopefully I can work out whether there is any way of waking up feeling refreshed. Apparently I was able to do that once upon a time.

Couch to 5k

April 8, 2016

Have you done the Couch to 5k running programme yet? I can’t recommend it enough. There are now a myriad of apps but I first found the podcasts via the NHS website. It takes you from being a non-runner in Week 1, to running 5k (about half an hour) by Week 9. It is genius! It starts gently with alternating one minute of running with a 90 second recovery walk and each segment increases gradually over the weeks. You always start and finish with a 5 minute brisk walk and you are accompanied by music and the lovely Laura, who will not only remind you when to walk and run, but give you lots of helpful tips and a bit of encouragement along the way.

I started it when Oscar was about 9 months old. I know that because I ran a 10k when he was a year and I was still breastfeeding. Probably the slowest 10k in the world but I impressed even myself. Since then I have dipped in and out of running and I always go back to the programme after a break, not necessarily to Week 1 but around about Week 5 or 6 to assess my fitness and get back on track. And the great thing about running is that you build up core fitness. Which means that even if you have a break of a week or two, a month or even 3 months, you don’t start again from the beginning. You’re a lot fitter than you think!

So. Having been banned from exercise for a while, I’m keen to get back to running. Especially now the weather is that glorious northern speciality of sunny and brisk. Belfast is so green that you could run from park to park with minimal roadwork, constantly surrounded by mountains, blue skies and birdsong. Fab.

Another motivator is Alfie and his weight. What better way to get a bit of Number One Son time than running together? We have therefore embarked on the Couch to 5k, starting at the very beginning. We began on holiday in Donegal and ran on the beach the first couple of times; water, rockpools, dunes and a dead sheep. Then we ran from cousin Jill’s house in Omagh – all country lanes, (living) sheep and a beautiful church. Yesterday we ran in Botanic park; rose garden, hyacinth flower beds, tourists, students and an ice cream van

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Sheep (living)

(which we ran past Very Fast). We’re about to complete Week 2 and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Alfie, on the other hand, spends a lot of the time complaining loudly and professing to hate me, running, and the world at large. He’s finding it tough which proves how unfit he is and how his weight really is holding him back. However, in true Alfie fashion he doesn’t stop, or give in, or give up. We get through the half hour and he does, despite himself, feel good afterwards. I’m determined to get him through this and harbour dreams where he becomes some athletic god and thanks his old mum for pushing him through the running programme and kickstarting his sporting career.

But I’ll settle for him not being last in his Sports Day events this year. Which, as it happens, is exactly the week after we complete the Couch to 5k running programme. Fingers crossed!peppa sports day

 

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