Sunday, May 19, 2013

From Music Teacher to Magic Fairy Dust Practitioner

My friend is a music teacher.  She's put in a lot of effort over the years.  She started to play the violin, age seven and practised every day throughout her childhood and adolescence. She did a degree at the Royal Northern College of Music and then she toured with some of the country's most famous orchestras, such as the Halle.

Eventually she trained as a teacher (a year's course, the Postgraduate Certificate of Education) and has been travelling round schools teaching the violin ever since.

From the above I hope that you can understand that she had all the proper qualifications to call herself a music teacher.  She teaches the violin - - sometimes to small groups of children, sometimes to a class of thirty-five, with an assistant to help her.

She needs an assistant to help the children because really the violin is quite a tricky instrument.  Somewhat harder than the triangle, or even the recorder.

It costs me to admit this cruel fact because actually I'm a pretty damned good recorder player.  My violin skills, however, are nil.

On a recorder, provided you cover the correct holes and don't blow too hard (and, admittedly, some people find this difficult, at least at first), your recorder will produce the note you're aiming for.

However, it's a bit different on the violin - you have to press your fingers down in exactly the right place to make the note, and the only way to learn how to do that is to practice.  Lots and lots and lots.

But now, the education authority that my friend works for is planning some changes.  She will no longer be known as a music teacher.  Oh no.  She will be a Music Practitioner.

So - - - what's the difference, I hear you ask?

Where else have we heard the term "practitioner"?  Well, I associate it with those kind of Complementary Health practices.  Homoeopathy, where you dilute things down to nothingness and give them to people and the placebo effect kicks in and makes them feel better.  Indian Head Massage, where you rub someone's head and they find it relaxing and the placebo effect kicks in and makes them feel better.  Reiki, where you kind of wave your hands over people and channel some mysterious energy and the placebo effect kicks in and makes them feel better.  Aromatherapy, where you make the place smell nice and the placebo effect kicks in and makes them feel better.  Sprinkling Magic Fairy Dust - - - and so on.

No, you guessed, I'm not a big follower of complementary medicine and for some of these things you have to train for how long? - ooooh, it can be as much as a few weeks! - - to get a certificate saying you're qualified.

But hey, what, therefore, is the difference between a Music Teacher and a Music Practitioner?

A Music Practitioner can stand in front of a class of thirty-five children playing the violin without an assistant!  Amazing!  And why is this? - - - Oh - - because a Music Practitioner, not being a teacher, doesn't need an assistant, because a Music Practitioner is not actually going to teach, they are going to MAKE MUSIC TOGETHER and who cares what the hell it sounds like.

Oh yes, and by the way, a Music Practitioner is paid about a third less than a Music Teacher.

NOW we understand.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This Week's Activities

I've had a really busy week this week and will write more about our adventures in Wales last weekend shortly.

However, in the meantime, here's an account of my mother's activities.

On Monday she did a lot of gardening.

On Tuesday she helped her gentleman friend clean out the pond, so the frog spawn would have nice clean water to hatch out in.

Yesterday she did some gardening during the day and went to see a play in the evening.

Today she's done some gardening and now she's gone to the pub quiz with her gentleman friend.

Tomorrow, Friday, my mother will go for her blood test prior to her fifth lot of chemotherapy, which will be next Monday.

On Saturday it will be her eighty-ninth birthday and my brother's coming over from Amsterdam to join us.

If you ask her how she is, she looks at you as though you're a bit daft and says "I'm fine, of course."  She was six and a half stone in December.  Now she's eight stone.

Did I think, back in December, that I'd be writing such a blog post in April?  No I jolly well didn't.  Amazing.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Bit Poorly

All winter I've been expecting to get some illness - some kind of cold virus-type-thing -  and all winter I've been worrying about it, because of my mother.

Because my Mum is having chemotherapy for peritoneal cancer, this makes her more vulnerable to infections.

I work with student doctors of course and they work with ILL PEOPLE!  Also, because they are young and working in lots of new environments, they tend to pick up lots of infections.

So all winter I've been in front of groups of students who have been coughing and sneezing.  There's usually one in the corner, deathly pale and huddled up in a coat, shivering.

"Emma, are you okay?"

"I've just got a cold.  ATISHOO!  I don't feel very well."

Anyway, I had triumphed!  All the Autumn term, all the Christmas holidays, all the Spring term and no nasty germs had got me!  I was beginning to feel rather proud, and remembering my Grandma, my mother's mother, who simply never got a cold no matter how much you sneezed over her.

"Don't worry, I won't get it.  I don't ever get colds."  And she never did, ever, and she died age 93.  (I'm convinced she only died when she did as a gesture of defiance against the old people's home where she lived, where they were trying to make her eat salad, which she had always regarded as entirely pointless.)

Anyway.   I think I managed to resist all these student germs because of having built up a good immune system during years of teaching sniffling adolescents who were infected with vile germs.

Now then, colds with me usually start with either sneezing a lot or a sore throat.  The sneezing type of cold tends to progress very fast into the runny-nosed type, but at least it doesn't last long.  The sore throat type, however, makes me feel dreadful for days before exploding into the twenty-tissues-an-hour kind and then turning into a hideous cough and bunging up my ears.  Bah.

So there I was, in the Easter holidays, feeling rather smug at having avoided all these infections - - and then I started coughing.  This virus is a whole new and exciting thing.  No sore throat or sneezing for me, oh no.  It went from a standing start into "hey, I think I'm going to COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH" - - - and so on.

It makes it very hard to sleep and also makes my stomach hurt from all the coughing.  Worst of all - and I know everyone will be VERY sorry to hear this - I am losing my voice.  Heartrending!

Of course, I'm worried that my mother will get it and so have tried to keep some distance from her, but she's not having any of it.  Every time I go near her house (and she lives next door) I explain and ask her to keep back, but she won't.  She's too worried about me.  When I didn't go over to see her, she simply came over to see me.  "Anything I can do?  Can I make you something to eat?"  I keep telling her that it sounds a lot worse than it is, but she's not having it.

She's making ten times more fuss about my cough than she ever did about her cancer.  The over-eighties are made of stern stuff.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Behind the Clock

We have been sent a copy of the letter that my mother's cancer consultant has sent to her GP.  It is full of such phrases as "excellent response to treatment." The cancer marker has "plummeted".  They are going to continue with the two remaining lots of chemotherapy and then do a CT scan to see what's going on - - though the letter makes it clear that they are both amazed and delighted by her progress.

Meanwhile, the snow has almost - though not quite - melted.

So my mother's gentleman friend has been out painting benches in the garden and Mum, wrapped up warmly in trousers, coat and hat has been out digging in the garden for much of the day.

"The soil's really not too difficult to turn over at all," she said.  "Of course I'm slower with the spade than I used to be but I still got quite a lot done."

She'd been thinking about it.  Not about the cancer:  she's been thinking about the garden.

"The thing is," she said, "I've been thinking what a boon a garden is.  It always gives you something to do.  Always makes you think of new ideas.  I've left the spade out there for tomorrow."

One of my Mum's foibles has always been that she never likes to pay bills. It isn't that she can't afford to pay them - it's simply that it's not a job she considers a priority.

So, when I was a child, she always just put the bills behind the clock on the mantelpiece and then waited until red versions arrived and then, finally, paid them.

Now I have all her bills paid by direct debit so she doesn't have to do that any more.  But with anything she doesn't like, she puts it behind a metaphorical clock and refuses to pay it any attention.

At the moment, my mother is out in the garden.  Her cancer is behind the clock.  Long may it remain there.

Monday, April 01, 2013

A Walk in the Land of Eternal Winter

It has been winter in Britain for ever.  It started last October, when my Mum got ill, and it's been winter ever since.  There is still snow in our garden.  Is this some kind of April Fool?

Anyway, this morning we woke early and the sun was shining so we thought hey, let us laugh in the face of winter and head for Potteric Carr Nature Reserve .  I've been wanting to visit this for a while.  It's a large area of wetland in a rather unprepossessing-sounding location - near Doncaster, for a start (sorry, Doncaster) and jammed in between railway tracks and the motorway, the M18.

It's an easy drive from Leeds (it was especially easy for me, since I wasn't driving) and the visitor centre was well-equipped and friendly.  Then we entered the reserve and it's a strangely beautiful landscape with a little touch of melancholy, which I love!

So off we went along the well-laid footpaths around marsh and field and across railway tracks and by tunnels and through woodland.  

There were quite a few trains - some on branch lines, some on main lines - but their hooting didn't seem to bother the wildlife at all and actually I rather liked it.

We walked for five and a half miles, stopping to have lunch in the excellent, unpretentious cafe which is sensibly positioned in the middle.

We saw lots and lots of birds from the many hides on the route, from the common garden birds - blackbirds, bluetits - to ones I know but don't visit our garden - willow tit, chaffinch - to ones I haven't seen so often - lapwings and redshanks.  I have only mentioned a few kinds - - we saw dozens.  It was great.

Although the numbers of visitors increased during the day, it was never crowded and always delightful - - though still very cold.

"It's freezing," I said to Stephen, (actually it was about two degrees centigrade but that's still jolly cold) "and I still haven't seen any coltsfoot yet this year."

By pure chance, we walked a few yards further and there they were.  A small glimmer of hope that there may one day be a proper Spring.

Sometimes at this time of year the daffodils are almost done flowering.  This year they are still in bud, shivering.

However, when we were nearly back at the visitor centre, we saw another hopeful sign.

Yes, green leaves!  I want to go back there in a few weeks' time and see the wintry landscape transformed into early-summer green.  And about time too.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Visit - - and a photo - -

Yes, I know.  It's been a while.

I've had SUCH a busy Spring - - rushing all over the place teaching and doing medical roleplay and I have loved every moment of it.

There have been many enjoyable moments in this work but I think my favourite was working with a medical student who'd been struggling to reach an acceptable standard and who said to me at the end of the session, "Thank you for bearing with me, and for staying enthusiastic - I know I was really difficult to work with at the beginning."

I went out walking on air!

When I haven't been working, I have been mostly spending time with my Mum.  She was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in December.  The cancer marker in the blood, which should be below 35 in someone who doesn't have cancer, was 6,900 at diagnosis, which speaks for itself as to how ill she was.

They weren't sure whether chemotherapy would help, as she was so frail and her weight had dropped to six and a half stone from her usual seven and a half (fourteen pounds in a stone, if you're American and don't do stones!)

The first chemo made her very sleepy but she tolerated it well otherwise.  Just before the second chemo, four weeks later, the cancer marker had dropped to 2,600 and she was quite a lot better - - walking with a stick, but walking.

Just before the third chemo they measured the marker again.  It was 253.

And just before the fourth chemo (of six) which she had last week, it was 82.

Since I work with doctors a lot, some of whom are cancer specialists, I haven't been able to resist hustling them into corners and asking "Is this as amazing as it seems to us?"

Everyone, including the doctors looking after Mum, agrees that it is.  "Right at the very top of anything we might expect" seems to be the verdict.

My private theory - and I've no proof of course - is that her previous astonishing level of fitness has helped her to  do so well.  Tremendously athletic in her youth, she's been out gardening for several hours a day ever since her retirement.

Mum has not so much fought cancer as ignored the whole thing completely.  "When do I have to go to the hospital again?" is about all we get from her about it.  Meanwhile, she's been out helping her gentleman friend (who has looked after her wonderfully well) build a snowman.  She can walk without a stick and is almost back to how she was before she got ill last October.

She'll be eighty-nine on April 20th and I feel so privileged to have had this extra time with her.  The Bexley Wing at St James's Hospital where she's being treated is a model of good practice.  Wonderful.

Some of our lovely Lancashire relatives came over to visit Mum, and us, today - they had been planning to come in January but couldn't because of the snow.  This visit was nearly snowed off too, but thank goodness they got here and it was really lovely to see them.  Very many thanks to Dorothy and John for coming and to Claire, John's daughter, who drove them here.

They brought some old photos and in amongst them was one which absolutely astonished me.  It was a photo of the Communist and my mother on their wedding day.  I'm not sure whether this was in 1949 or 1950 - they were never clear about it themselves - but they both always insisted that no such photo existed.  "All the photos were terrible," they said.  "We threw them away."

But this one's great!  I don't know why they didn't like it.

 My mother - age about 24 in the photo - looks delightful and is instantly recognisable.  The Communist looks like a mad professor and is already losing his hair, at 25.

It is so lovely to have it, and so very, very strange to see it after all these years.  The doctors back in December were pretty convinced that my mother would be dead by now, so I'm delighted to have the photo whilst she's still alive and enjoying herself so much.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Doctors Speaking English

Here's something that I believe very strongly.

It's that when you're ill, whether in hospital or at home, you should not, when talking to a doctor, have to struggle to make yourself understood.

Furthermore, you shouldn't be struggling to understand the doctor.

So I welcome this new ruling that, from April, doctors from the European Union will have to prove their skills in English before being put on a list to practice in this country.  There'll also be cross-matching so that if you're turned down for poor language skills in one part of the country you can't pop up in another part of the country and work there.

At the moment you have to prove your language skills if you're from outside the EU, but not if you're from within it.

Does that seem ridiculous to you?  Yes, it does to me too.  If I were a doctor, and I wanted to practise in, say, France, I'd expect them to check that my French was somewhere above the "two glasses of wine, please" level.

Of course, even though many of us have been saying this for years, it took a patient's death to get something done about it.  A German doctor gave a patient a fatal overdose in his first and last shift in the UK.  He'd previously been turned down by Leeds (three cheers for Leeds!) for poor language skills and then taken on by Cambridge.

The trouble is, language is always a sensitive issue - - people can say they're complaining about language skills when they are actually being racist.  "That doctor's English isn't good" can mean "That doctor's foreign and his skin is brown and I don't like that."

I have found, both from experience in real life and in medical roleplay, that a good doctor is good no matter where they are from.  We all tend to have a more ready trust in someone who looks as though they come from the same cultural background as we do - - but take it from me, a good doctor can overcome any distrust in the first minute.

So the fact that some people use language as an excuse for racism shouldn't get in the way of the fundamental issue - - which is that of language.

So they are going to bring in language checks on doctors from the EU; a good thing too.  My only concern is who's going to set the level of language, and how is it to be checked?

One of the things that overseas doctors tend to struggle with is the appropriate level of language, and they sometimes tend to use medical jargon ("hypertension" rather than "high blood pressure") because, as a Malaysian student said to me a few years ago, "It's all English to us."

Who, therefore, will check the language skills?  Doctors?  Patients?  It would be great to provide follow-up assistance too, to help the doctors' English get even better.

It's a crucial area, I think.  I hope that they'll put enough effort and resources into thinking it out.  Many thanks to Silverback for sending me the link to the BBC news item.