Saturday, January 27, 2007

There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed

He might have been a power-mad despot but he knew a thing or two did "Old Boney", and I cannot help but think it was fate which led to my first encounter with the New Zealand Health Service.

And so begins the story.....

I must apologise in advance for labouring through the circumstances leading up to my chance encounter with the medical services, but I feel these events themselves are worthy of mention before I take you to the Medical Centre.

Firstly fate conspired to match an early-finish meeting with an unusually low tide, which provided ample time and opportunity for a spot of evening rock fishing - not the easiest or best way to catch your dinner but usually a bit of fun and a chance to watch a fantastic sunset and catch up with a couple of mates. So me and a mate head off down to the local beach for a couple of hours.

Not a hugely successful haul - two undersized snapper that had to go back - but it was certainly worth the effort and, after a couple of hours we head back to his place to to sink a quick beer and tell a few fishing lies out on his deck. After one beer - note that well, one beer - it was getting too dark and we both had work the day after, so it was time to head home. We had plenty of stuff to carry (including tonnes of plums for an imminent wine brewing venture) so my mate offered me a lift home. He gathered some stuff together and headed across the back garden towards the car. Chipshaker Junior, true to form, followed him carrying as little as possible, leaving me to gather up a tackle box, two pairs of wet jandals and an 8ft fishing rod.

With no outside lights I headed barefoot for roughly the point where the steps down from the deck should be. Having successfully negotiated the four steps I thought there should be, I set off walking to head round the side of the house. Unfortunately, the existence of a fifth step mean that my mind and body, geared to travel in a horizontal direction, were not prepared for the remaining six or seven inches of vertical drop that followed! Now I have no idea how spectacular the fall actually looked but, if it is proportionate to the pain that followed, it would have been impressive. Truth be known I don't really know what happened, except for a couple of things that were immediately apparent - the amount of blood coming from my knee meant that it had come into contact with the concrete pad at the bottom of the steps, the pain in my right foot meant that I had definitely not landed smoothly, and the air rushing out of my lungs, combined with the excruciating pain in my right testicle meant that the butt of the 8ft fishing rod had tried to break my fall...unsuccessfully. Completely unable to cry out, I lay in a ball for a few minutes, listening to my mate carrying on a conversation with me from round the side of the house that I had no hope of participating in. Eventually, I recovered enough to test out the extent of the damage and managed to hobble round to the car, where I had to try to explain what had happened.

Anyway, to cut a long story a little shorter, I was delivered home where, after packing up the fishing gear, I advised Chipshaker Jr that all I wanted was a beer and a sit down. "I'll get you the beer Dad........CRASH!". I turned round to see the puddle of beer expanding across the garage floor, with Jr stood in the middle of it, the blood slowly mixing with the beer and broken glass.

"Stand STILL!"

I then eased myself into a sitting position, and helped Jr sit down in a dry patch, so as to avoid standing on any more glass. I then began to pick up the larger pieces of glass, after first establishing that Jr had only nicked his foot.

And that was the point Mrs C returned home, to find us both sat on the floor, bleeding, in a pool of blood, beer and broken glass!!

"What the hell is going on here?!"

And so we come to my encounter with the local Medical Centre.

After cleaning up my knee it turned that, whilst being the most painful of the various injuries, it was in fact the least serious and was now being overtaken in the pain stakes by my rapidly expanding big toe! Having broken a few bones in my youth, I was familiar with that special aching, throbbing pain that comes with broken bones, and I was fairly certain I had broken the toe. I also knew there was bugger all that could be done for broken toes, so I gobbled down a few painkillers, had another beer and went to bed.

That was Thursday night and, faced with a number of meetings and a huge "To Do" list, I headed off for work on Friday morning, armed with enough painkillers to hopefully see me through the day. However, by lunchtime it became very apparent that this was probably a very silly thing to have done and by 4pm my left foot was its usual size 7 whereas the right foot was a size 9, with unattractive shades of blue and purple. On arriving home, I succumbed to the pressure and agreed to let Mrs C take me to the medical centre.

And what a truly glorious experience it was!!!

At first, it seemed like any other emergency waiting room - rather sterile, the walls decorated with posters warning me about sexually transmitted diseases and the dangers of sneezing on people, and a TV playing to itself in the background.

Then gradually, you realised that, along with everyone else in the waiting room, your attention had subconsciously been drawn to the TV.....

"and so now we are going to perform an incision around Maureen's scalp, draw back the forehead and incise around the ears. We pull up and staple into place........CLICK, CLICK, CLICK"

"Two weeks later Maureen visits Dr Smith's dental surgery.......and we remove the fillings like so, drill around the teeth [weeeeeeeee, weeeeeeee, WEEEEEEEEEEE] and insert the new caps over the top"

As if the TV wasn't enough, the nurse on duty then felt compelled to compete with these outside influences and picked up the phone...

"Yes, this is the Medical Centre, I have a woman with an amputated fractured finger and I called for an ambulance a while back......well do you know how long it will be?.......well yes, it's just hanging on by a scrap of's on it's way? Okay, thanks"

Then, turning to the gathered crowd of pale onlookers, she addressed us collectively, seeking out her next victim....

"Darryl? [big bloke with bandaged calf (the bottom bit of his leg, not a young farm animal) stands up nervously] Yes, can you come this way please....[heading down the corridor] it's just a tetanus is it? Righto. And it was a shark bite was it? Dear me, how many stitches?......27 STITCHES! My word!"

Now that's what I call health care! No drawn curtain, no patient discretion, just full-on graphic commentary for the enjoyment of all.

I went in feeling very dejected and in a great deal of discomfort, but I came out extremely uplifted, having enjoyed perhaps the greatest moments of unintentional comedy I have seen for a very long time. I was also resolved to never go there with any kind of ailment I wouldn't freely admit to others, for fear of walking down the corridor to the loud accompaniment of..... "so, it's just the penis suppurating profusely is it? We'll soon get that sorted"

And the best thing of all? The whole experience, glorious as it was, lasted less than an hour and the nurse even put some cream on my grazed knee!!


As a post script to this wonderful experience, I went back to the medical centre yesterday morning for an X-ray to confirm the extent of the damage. It is indeed broken as suspected but most impressive of all was the way the doctor nonchalantly took down a book from the shelf entitled "Practical Fracture Treatment", which he proceeded to flick through before writing up his treatment notes. Now I know these guys have to learn a lot, and they can't possibly know everything, but I'm not too sure they should be learning on the job!

If we think about this carefully, I diagnosed a broken toe on the Thursday night, which was considered to be a correct diagnosis when viewed by a doctor on Friday night, confirmed by an X-ray on Saturday morning and treated by reference to a text book and use of multiple strips of Band Aid. In the past, I have also correctly predicted tonsillitis in myself and my children and successfully treated it with salt water gargles, convinced Mrs C that the children have a heat rash not meningitis, identified chicken pox, and have treated several deep wounds (in myself and close friends and family) with home-made butterfly stitches, thus generally avoiding a four hour sojourn fighting off the unwanted attentions of drunks and drug addicts in British hospital waiting rooms .

I can't help but feel I may be somewhat wasted in my current job and can see a future with the Chipshaker Travelling Medicine Show. After all, it doesn't really seem that difficult and, if anyone in New Zealand can be an estate agent, surely the conditions for being a doctor can't be that rigorous?

Friday, January 19, 2007

I wanted to do something nice.... I bought my mother-in-law a chair, but my wife won't let me plug it in!

(If it weren't so true that old joke would indeed be funny)

Yes, as I write this I come to the end of three very long weeks in the cloying company of my wife's mother - an individual I found intolerable during previously infrequent encounters, let alone having to live with her for three whole weeks. (And I should point out that this is notwithstanding several vicious and underhand tricks she did when I first seduced her beautiful daughter some 18 years ago, which I try hard not to influence my loathing of her).

Apart from the fact that she is perhaps the most thoroughly dislikeable person I have every met, most adults of a certain age will probably admit that it is also very difficult sharing ones personal space with another adult you wouldn't ordinarily choose to live with. That said, once I had got over the initial urges to mark my territory by urinating on the dining table leg, rationalised that I was only connected to her by some tragic fluke of marriage, and that my summer holiday/Christmas was going to be buggered up beyond redemption, I have to admit that I did settle down somewhat to revel in the spectacle that was to follow.

I suppose those that don't know me may feel my opening comments are a little uncaring (those that do know me probably feel the same!), but be assured that Mrs C does in fact share my dislike of the woman, although perhaps not to the same extent, and begged me not to abandon her to her tender mercies. Undeterred by this impassioned plea, I pointed out the undeniable truth that she was in fact no relation of mine and our paths had only crossed by an accident of early 20s lust and animal attraction (to Mrs C, not her mother!!). Therefore I patiently explained that I was quite within my rights to find every excuse possible to disappear with the children, play golf or undertake marathon Playstation sessions in another room or join the Merchant Navy. And at this point, It is worth bearing in mind that the visit was only grudgingly agreed to for the sake of the two Chipettes, who mistakenly believed they were missing out on something by being 10,000 miles away from Grandma. If you care to read on, you can make your own decisions on whether they were.

As I say, at first it was perhaps just a little difficult because of the territorial aspects of three adults cohabiting. Nevertheless, it became apparent after only the first fifteen minutes that it was going to be much much more than that.

Having passed through New Zealand customs control myself a few times, I am very aware that there are stringent drugs controls in this country and a notable intolerance of smugglers. That said, The Bride of Satan managed to fox this country's trained enforcement officers and their clever dogs somehow and arrived with the biggest haul of drugs I have ever seen! Antihistamine tablets, thyroid tablets, aspirin, allergy tablets, enough Rennie to have rendered Acid Bath Haigh harmless, anti-depressants, sleeping tablets, distemper tablets, foot and mouth cream - you name it she had the lot. The only thing she was missing was the medication to treat her hypochondria!

When I was stupid enough to comment on the size of her pill box (more a travel bag than a pocket box) she regaled us with tales of how she had scourged the pharmacies of Sydney (during a 10 day stop over) because she was worried she only had enough blue pills for the next 3 months!! Not content with that, we then got a blow by blow account of her extravagant pill popping excesses.

"This blue one I have 75mg one day and 50mg on the next, then 75mg again....or is it the other way round, I can never remember? Anyway, this yellow one I have three times a day. The white ones I just take when I fancy......"

I'm assuming the white ones were in fact mint imperials, which she harped on about regularly throughout the visit (and which were later found, half sucked, in the bed when the covers were changed after her departure!!). Judging by her miserable countenance and lethargic shuffling round the house, I can only assume the blue ones were not speed! I also have a theory that her insomnia could be triggered by some kind of mad urge to get a sugar rush around 10pm every night - mint imperials, honey, assorted biscuits, Ovaltine, you name it. All were consumed as part of the going to bed ritual, accompanied by 10 minutes of exaggerated yawning and the oft repeated chorus of "Oo I'm tired, I'm worn out, I am tired you know, I think I'll go to bed". After 5 minutes of which I was fighting back the urge to scream "Well, just effing go to bed then, so that the rest of us can hear ourselves think!"

Somewhat suicidally bored and fighting back the urge to self harm, I retired gracefully to bed at the end of day one!

In the following days she displayed perhaps her only skill in life (assuming paranoia isn't considered a talent), being the ability to fill every single waking second with unnecessary noise or vacuous and inane chatter. Let me give you but one example - upon meeting her on the stairs one evening she greeted me with the earth-shattering revelation "Eh look, it's me, with my camomile tea and honey". Now Stevie Wonder may have struggled to deduce that one but I just about managed to draw that conclusion by assimilating the assembled facts (ie, it was definitely her, she was holding a cup of hot liquid, she'd never stopped harping on about camomile tea since she got there (this was before we'd scoured Greater Auckland to replenish mint imperial stocks) and it was past 10pm so there was bound to be a shovelful of honey in there!). Somewhat stunned by the enormity of this event I was fleetingly tempted to contact Sky News to advise them of this world-changing revelation but, on further reflection, opted for the wintry smile instead.

Mind you, it's a wonder she can find time to brew camomile tea quite frankly, what with the hectic social life she seems to live. After all, she seems to be on first name terms with just about every A-list celebrity you can imagine. Or at least I assume this is the case based on the running commentary she gives whenever she watches the TV (which is almost constantly). "Aw look, there's Elton, he's been going some years, eh look, it's Rod - he's nearly as old as me you know. And Shirley, she's done some stuff over the, la,lelah, bum, be bum"

Now I have to confess I'm perhaps not Shirley Bassey's biggest fan, though her talent is undeniable, and I am reasonably familiar with her most popular songs. However, I couldn't for the life of me place the one that had just been attempted by Beelzebub's Bedfellow

But perhaps the greatest revelation of all, and one the New Zealand Herald would definitely be interested in was.... "Aw Diana - she's not dead you know, oh no, she'll never die, she'll live forever"

I don't know about you but after a fairly conclusive post mortem, endless media coverage, a State funeral, several messy stains in a Paris underpass and a high profile enquiry I thought it was a given that she'd shuffled off this mortal coil, but apparently not. Nevertheless, this little snippet did leave me wondering if it was all a ruse so that Di could get some respite from the media attention. Perhaps she's teamed up with Elvis and works in a burger joint in Des Moines, and only Mrs C's mum knows the secret?

By this point, we were only a few days in and I was beginning to wonder if I would stay the distance without "going postal". Nevertheless, Christmas Day was imminent, so I felt duty bound to soldier on. And what a joy Christmas Day was! We were treated to Christmas courtesy of QVC - for the uninitiated, QVC is a shopping channel available on satellite, cable and freeview in the UK. It specialises in selling chintzy, tacky crap of all descriptions to insomniacs who are too tired to venture out during the day, mostly because they sit up all night watching QVC! And the Monster-in-Law is a most avid fan - I can recall a time when Mrs C revealed how she had opened a cupboard at her mother's house, only to have a near-death experience under an avalanche of Jiffy envelopes and boxes all bearing the QVC emblem.

Anyway, given their origins, it was perhaps not surprising that most of the gifts fell apart after the first hour or so, prompting a rant about all the things that upset her the most about Christmas. Somehow, this turned into a discussion around the jewellery adorning the Monster-in-Law's crabbed hands and a revelation far greater than the immortality of Princess Di...

Mrs C, whether out of mischief or morbid curiosity - I know not which , asked "Why do you keep buying all that stuff Mum?"

"Well, I'm a collector you see. I buy it all on Easypay you know - I just pay over four months so it's a lot cheaper. And most of the things I've bought have appreciated in value".

Now at this point, apart from being in danger of losing control of my bladder, I was also stunned to realise that there was in fact a market for "Diamonique" and "Rubyite" jewellery outside those that sit up all night watching camp wannabee presenters waxing lyrical on the aesthetic and intrinsic value of a glass-and- silver-plated ring that wouldn't look out of place falling from the big end of a Christmas cracker. I naturally assumed that pieces of shaped glass were of limited value, regardless of their colour, unless made in Waterford instead of Warrington. Needless to say, when the Harpy from Hades does get the call to return to Satan's side, I'll be sending Mrs C straight off to the Antiques Roadshow with her inheritance!

Mind you, if - as I suspect - the 'jewellery' (I imagine the Guild of Master Jewellers may dispute the careless use of that word as gross misrepresentation) turns out to not be worth enough to pay off the Easypay instalments, we will still have something to remember her by. Well, that's assuming Mrs C doesn't chuck out that one of her set of her best towels her mother ruined when surreptitiously dying her hair.

And I couldn't help but marvel at the underhand way she "confessed" to this wicked deed.

Waiting until Mrs C had gone out, the MIL backed me into a corner and numbed me into semi-consciousness with a rambling account of how the sun had dried her hair and taken the colour out (Bearing in mind this is the same sun that had seemingly failed to appear most of the time......"Oh I am disappointed with the weather, it's been nice seeing the kids but I'll be really upset if I don't go back with a suntan", but that she had basked in at every opportunity, turning the uncovered parts of her body into charred flesh...."Oh no, it's not sore, look I can even do this...." [slaps horrible turkey neck violently to demonstrate lack of excruciating radiation burns]". She wasn't fooling anyone though, the putrid stench of burnt flesh and the oft applied Savlon were testament to her misery and stupidity).

Anyway, almost to the point of semi-consciousness, I suddenly realised this rambling soliloquy actually had a point......"all the grey was showing through, so I had to dye my hair. I brought an old hand-towel with me especially but it was too small and my hair was still wet. So I borrowed one of Mrs C's towels to finish it off....the stains'll come out when it's washed I'm sure...."

I have to admit, I couldn't resist mentioning to Mrs C on her return that she might want to have a quick shufty at the top quality, extra thick CREAM-COLOURED bath-towel currently residing in the laundry basket....

And so let me finish with a message to all sons-in-law out there, particularly those who reluctantly allow their mother-in-laws to stay. It may seem like a prospect worse than death but, with the right mental attitude, it can be hugely entertaining and incredibly educational - I now know much more about immortality, celebrity lifestyle and the specialist collectors' market than I could ever have imagined, and I learnt some new swear words too when Mrs C found the towel!

Oh, and I also improved my golf handicap and won prize money in the club competition two weekends running!! Not bad for a bloke who usually couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo!!