Random Thoughts … Operation: Rescue Melly

Janine Norris, Lesbian, Relationships

By Janine Norris

What do you do when your girlfriend’s miles away and falls ill with a life-threatening condition?

Mel and 1/5 of a horse face.

I made a mad dash with a friend on Thursday morning to Lichfield in Staffordshire. My girlfriend, Mel, had been working up there since Monday. From the Tuesday she had struggled with a dreadful headache and violent vomiting. This was nothing new. She has suffered with migraines for a few years now (since she met me actually!) and in the last 3 months has had cyclical pattern of headaches and vomiting at least twice a week. She had finally agreed to book an appointment with the doctor and was due to attend soon.

On Wednesday evening she phoned me and was crying. Mel is not a person who cries easily. She’s my strong, brave, sensible girlfriend who gives me the power and permission to be the emotional cry-baby; it works well.

By now I know it’s serious. I ring her the next morning and she says she just wants to ‘go to sleep and not wake up’. That’s how bad the pain was. I messaged her best friend, Bex, who is our anchor. She’s bright, logical and a great problem solver. She immediately tells me to contact work and get to hers as soon as possible. We need to launch ‘Operation: Rescue Melly!’

“As I went in, the room was in complete darkness and it was obvious to me that Mel was very poorly. Her head, she described, felt like it was squeezed in a vice and she wanted to ‘dig it out’. She wasn’t totally lucid either. I got her dressed as best I could and got her in the van to begin the journey home.”

I jumped on my ‘pocket rocket’ Ninja 650 and whizzed to Baylham to meet Bex. We then began our 3-hour long journey to Lichfield. I messaged Mel to let her know we were on our way.

When we arrived, Bex drove straight off back to Ipswich; she had an important ‘Zoom’ call to attend that she might just get back to work for if she was lucky.

I went to the hotel Mel was staying in and found she’d left her key card just peeping out from under the door. As I went in, the room was in complete darkness and it was obvious to me that Mel was very poorly. Her head, she described, felt like it was squeezed in a vice and she wanted to ‘dig it out’. She wasn’t totally lucid either. I got her dressed as best I could and got her in the van to begin the journey home.

Now, everyone who knows us well, knows that Mel hates my driving! Not just mine, to be fair, she’s a nervous passenger. However, I’m her true love so she’s allowed to criticise my driving whenever she likes (that’s the law of girlfriends apparently). During this drive from Lichfield to home, I knew I was going to have to get her to hospital as soon as I could. Not just because she didn’t know where she was, what day it was and what she had been doing that morning, but mainly because she didn’t comment once about my driving!


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I am awaiting the speeding tickets through my door at any point. I drove super aggressively because I sensed the urgency. I was overtaking, undertaking, flashing my lights, beeping my horn, swearing – I mean, I do suffer road rage normally but this was different. (I apologise to anybody I may have upset on the A14 that day.)

When we arrived at A&E I checked her in and obviously couldn’t be with her. I found a car parking space and couldn’t even put the coins in to get my ticket. A very kind gentleman helped me out with this, and now I’m a pro.

Mel was admitted to the assessment unit and diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.

This was a shock to us all. The doctors said that 12 hours later and it would be a completely different story. I’m hoping this will give me special dispensation for my crazy driving that day.

It is Sunday evening and Mel is still in hospital. She has horrifically high blood pressure and is still vomiting and on pain medication for her headaches. She is due an MRI on Monday or Tuesday and if nothing shows in that, then she has to have a Lumbar Puncture. Oh, and her bloods have gone to Addenbrookes in a taxi for specialised testing.

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However, this isn’t really the blog I want to write. The best part of this situation is the ‘group chats’. We have various group chats but the two that kept us both going over this hideous time are ‘Everything BUT wood’ and ‘Whore Needles’.

‘Everything BUT wood’ includes Mel, me, an old colleague of hers (Milly) and her Paramedic husband, Shane. Shane and Mel are obsessed with everything chainsaw and how much seasoned wood they can collect to burn on their respective wood burners. When I informed ‘Everything BUT wood’ of Mel’s bacterial meningitis diagnosis, Milly immediately ‘googled’ to make sure she was thinking of the right meningitis.

                Milly: …. It came up with bacterial vaginosis … get those antibiotics pumping!

WhatsApp messages have been an absolute god send throughout this situation so far. The best part for me is that, during my 40-minute journey to hospital and back, I stay informed. The new van we have has the ability to read out messages as you go along. I can honestly say that I have been crying with laughter at some of the threads and some of the single comments.

My ‘siri’ is set to a female with an Irish accent. When she reads the messages to me it makes it even funnier.

We have another Group Chat entitled ‘Whore Needles’. This is taken from a character from an adult comic or something and was named because of the appalling behaviour of our friend Bex’s horse at the time. She (the horse, not Bex) was often referred to as a ‘Whore Needle’ or sometimes shortened to ‘The Needle’ when she was being particularly mare-ish. We spend a lot of time going to horse shows with Bex and her new horse, Harn.

Harn is a huge, ginger Arabian cross thing who knows how handsome he is and therefore shows it off at every opportunity. He has 2 favourite moves whilst out in public. His first is waving his front ‘paws’ in the air at his ever-increasing fanbase. His second is raising his back ‘paws’ in a game of ‘eject the rider.’ Due to this, Bex can become fairly nervous and can behave a little like a Diva at times.

Harn playing ‘Eject the rider’!

The following conversation occurred following Mel’s diagnosis:

Bex: Morning! I would just like to say that I know I can be a vile thing at competitions. However you didn’t have to go quite so far to get out of grooming on Sunday.

Mel: I was going to say the same – anything to avoid you at a show.

Conversations have continued pretty much in the same vein.

Mel: (prior to the show on Sunday) Good luck and enjoy and I look forward to reviewing all the photos of your shiny boobs.

Mel is usually in charge of cleaning Bex’s show BOOTS to the highest standard – without her there, she was concerned about the level of shine. ‘Shiny boobs’ was NOT what Mel wanted to write.

Following a hospital meal, Mel (who has a very healthy appetite, it’s fair to say) sent a message.

                Mel: Gosh, I’m absolutely stuffed after that hospital cottage pie, said no Melly ever.

Following a visit from the on-call doctor about her increasingly painful head, Mel reported:

I’ve just seen the duty doctor but unfortunately she was about 12 and was clearly on work experience so she’s probably going to prescribe me a lollipop.

It’s been a difficult few days for everyone concerned, and Mel can be a very serious character at times. However, her humour has stepped up and this is helping her to refocus her mind so that she is not dwelling on the ‘what might happen’ thoughts. Her observations of people, situations and the environment have been her saving grace, most definitely.

She’s not out of the woods yet, but she’s in the best place she can be. We are both so incredibly grateful and thankful for the work the NHS do, all day, every day. She honestly could not have had better treatment. Yes, the food portions are not as big as she is used to (which is no bad thing), but they are nutritious, hot and very welcome. Yes, the on-call doctor appeared not even to have reached her early teenage years yet, but that’s a reflection on how old we are now, not a reflection on the doctor. (I mean, who hasn’t recently looked at a police officer and thought ‘blimey, shouldn’t you still be in school?’) What we have realised is what is important in life. It’s not money, cars, houses, holidays, etc., etc. It’s people who love you/care about you/make you laugh and your health. Thank you for reading. Hopefully I will be able to update you on her progress soon.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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Random Thoughts: Unexpected Guests

Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

We picked up Marjorie and she wriggled and fell. Straight on the floor. On her back. She squeaked, struggled to get up and eventually disappeared into a box. We were shocked. She was obviously badly hurt and we didn’t know what to do.

Rather like Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of The Hobbit (but not on such a grand scale), the start of Lockdown brought about some unexpected guests. The ‘guests’ were the school Guinea Pigs, Mary and Marjorie.

Nobody else working in the school could take them home for Lockdown, so I immediately jumped at the chance. It’s common knowledge that my girlfriend and I much prefer the company of animals than people, so our home was the perfect choice.

Marjorie

I had to dismantle the ‘run’ that the students had made for the girls for it to fit in the back of the car. I struggled with the hutch, carrying it by myself and, finding super human strength from somewhere (generally stubbornness and determination), I managed to get everything in the car. The pigs travelled in style in a cat carrier in the passenger-side footwell.

On arrival home, I carefully unloaded the precious cargo and struggled down the side path to the back garden. Could I have asked my girlfriend for help? Yes, but she wasn’t expecting visitors!

Once I had settled the girls in their hutch with bedding, fresh vegetables and salad, I called my girlfriend, Mel, who was still working at her desk in the house.

She came into the garden, a little unsure of what was in store – she hates surprises. I explained that nobody else could take the guinea pigs home, so I had offered to look after them. I rattled on and on about how I would look after them and she wouldn’t have to do anything so that I took responsibility. After all, on this occasion, I hadn’t consulted her on the matter. We usually make important decisions together, but this was an emergency. Nobody was allowed back on the school site after today and the pigs needed a home.

I introduced Mel to ‘Hairy’ Mary and Marjorie. She asked if she could hold one. I handed her Mary. A huge grin appeared on her face and she said, ‘I feel like I’m eight years old again and I’ve been chosen to look after the school guinea pigs for the summer holidays.’

And that is where my story begins.

Life in Lockdown for Mel and I threatened to be rather difficult. Mel has worked from home, alone, for the last twenty years. She is a Business Management Consultant working mainly with land-based businesses, mainly farms and farmers, so when she isn’t working at home, she’s out and about, in the middle of nowhere, advising farmers on how best to move forward with their businesses.


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As schools closed suddenly, there I was, sitting in the opposite corner of the lounge at a desk of my own, having no idea how I was going to cope. I’m not a desk worker. I’m a fidget. Similarities with some of my students with ADHD are prevalent in my personality. Mel is calm, professional and totally focused on her work. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, it was better than either of us ever imagined: We no longer had to make excuses for not going out, we enjoyed each other’s company approximately 99% of the time, we learnt new things about each other, and we became interested in each other’s work. I was astounded at how knowledgeable Mel was when it came to advising farmers via Zoom, and she finally got to see me teaching and interacting with the students I had talked so much about.

However, what actually made Lockdown more memorable was the presence of Mary and Marjorie. We had no real idea of a guinea pig’s needs, so Mel researched everything we needed to know. We took advice from people we knew who had had (or still had) guinea pigs, and the girls began to thrive.

We also began to thrive. Our mornings began with a dog walk by the river, then coffee sitting in the garden watching the pigs explore their new items (boxes, tunnels, food, etc.) we had placed in their run each day. It was a peaceful time.

On the third Thursday of Lockdown we went into the garden to put the pigs to bed for the night. We picked up Marjorie and she wriggled and fell. Straight on the floor. On her back. She squeaked, struggled to get up and eventually disappeared into a box. We were shocked. She was obviously badly hurt and we didn’t know what to do.

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The next morning, we put the girls in their run, and Marjorie was moving but dragging her back legs behind her. This, for us, was a heart-breaking sight. We booked an appointment at the vet. When we arrived, we had to wait in the carpark for the vet to come out and take Marjorie inside. He returned with painkillers and suggested we wait a week to see what happened.

We decided to put them both to bed as normal and see how she was the next morning. Needless to say, we went to bed that evening sobbing. We had grown so fond of the girls and the guilt we felt was immense.

Our ‘Unexpected Guests’ have become a huge part of our lives and our daily routine, along with the dogs and the horses, and they have certainly had a huge effect on my mental health throughout the Pandemic.

By Sunday, it looked as though Marjorie was deteriorating. She couldn’t keep herself clean, so we were bathing her with cotton wool and warm water. She was still eating and moving about, but we were concerned about her quality of life.

On Monday morning, I opened the hutch door and she had clearly not moved all night. She was dirty and sorrowful looking. I made the decision to phone the vet and book her in to be put to sleep that afternoon.

The tears Mel and I cried over that little girl were huge.

In my usual fashion, at lunchtime, I left my desk and popped into the garden for some fresh air and outdoor stimulation. Something told me to look at the pigs. As I looked in the run, Marjorie was running around, playing, her back legs dragging behind her, but she looked much brighter. I cancelled her vet appointment. She lived to fight another day.

Mary

There were a couple more close calls, but she still seemed happy in herself and was eating. Eventually, we booked in to see the ‘Exotic Animal Vet’ (who knew guinea pigs were Exotic Animals?). She took her away, examined her and returned, saying she definitely had feeling in her legs and toes (as she had moved her legs when she pinched her toes). She couldn’t feel any broken bones, so really wanted us to give her a bit more time. She explained that if she was no better within the next month, we were to go back and she would reassess her quality of life. This vet actually said, ‘Don’t give up on her just yet.’

We took her home and began doing very small exercises with her back legs each morning and evening. Over the next couple of weeks, she began ‘paddling’ one of her back legs, and a few days later, did the same with the other.

Approximately a month after seeing that vet, Marjorie was 95% back to normal!

For me, this was a miracle. The resilience shown by this tiny creature was out of this world. Needless to say, the girls are very special to us. They are going to stay with us for the rest of their lives, and they continue to give us so much pleasure and happiness.

Marjorie has doubled in weight and is definitely the pig in charge; Mary doesn’t mind, as long as there’s food around.

Our ‘Unexpected Guests’ have become a huge part of our lives and our daily routine, along with the dogs and the horses, and they have certainly had a huge effect on my mental health throughout the Pandemic.

The power of guinea pigs is incredible. However, don’t agree to have them as pets until you’ve researched thoroughly. Their intelligence, curiosity and dietary needs are far more complex than people realise.

We will have Guinea Pigs for ever.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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Random Thoughts: This is Not a Diary … Cursed!

Growing Pains, Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

So, ok, I’m ginger! There, I said it. I can deal with that. However, a test of my strength of (sensitive, ginger) character hit hard when I also realised I was gay. Come on! How unfair did this seem at the time?

I was born cursed.

“Cursed with what?” I hear you ask.

Well, let me tell you. I was born cursed with the ginger gene! To many of you reading this now, you may feel this is a dramatic over-exaggeration of my hair colour. Some of you may be ‘ginger’ and love it. However, growing up ginger in the 70s was no easy task.

When I say ‘ginger’ I mean ginger. Not ‘Strawberry Blonde’, not ‘sandy,’ but actual ORANGE. On top of this, there were 3 of us. Me, my younger sister and my older brother. All orange!

As kids, we would be out and about with our parents, shopping, on holiday, whatever. Wherever we went we would be stared at. I mean, literally, people would stop and stare at the 3 of us. In today’s context we would be chart-topping superstars as part of ‘The Greatest Showman’ soundtrack; we could all sing!

It wasn’t just the staring either. People would touch us. Touch our hair. Without permission. I’ve heard pregnant women say similar about strangers thinking they have the right to touch the ‘baby belly’; people they don’t know walking up to them and stroking their bump even in this day and age.

A colleague of mine has recently had cancer and lost all of her hair. She said that one of the most uncomfortable and almost distressing parts was when her hair began to grow back and people would stroke her ‘stubble.’ Generally people she knew, but some outside of the family.

I suppose the ‘Curse of Ginger’ could have caused me a lot more trouble. There were not so many gingers about in those days and many of our ‘community’ were bullied for their hair colour. On reflection, the targets of bullying were mainly boys with a ginger chip on their shoulder, so they would attack first in order to defend themselves. This did not usually turn out well.

My brother and I were both quite placid and easy going, so there was no real need for us to be singled out and bullied for our hair colour. I mean yes, there was the usual name calling—‘Duracell,’ ‘Carrot top,’ ‘Ginger nut,’ etc.—but I was never bothered by it. My sister was a totally different character, so nobody in their right mind was going to have a pop at her!

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An observation I have made about the ‘Ginger Curse’ is that, generally, if you are ginger, you hate it; if you are not ginger, you love it and want to be ginger.

Redheads (a polite way to say ‘Ginger’) are apparently the rarest ‘breed’ of the human population with only between 1 and 2 per cent natural gingers. Research has been taking place for years into the ginger gene. In the year 2000 it was discovered that the ‘mutation’ of a particular gene (MC1R/MCIR) causes gingerness and its unique characteristics.

Here we go again! Such negative connotations into the ginger gene—mutation! Come on! What about ‘Transformation,’ ‘Revolution,’ ‘Metamorphosis?’ These are all far more complimentary than ‘Mutation’. As it is, our gingerness causes us to be more sensitive than the rest of the world’s population (scientifically only physically more sensitive, but who knows, it could have an effect on our mental and emotional sensitivity too?)

Over sensitivity to temperature changes is a definite physical symptom I suffer as a ginger. In the winter, one minute I’m fine and within a millisecond I’m shivering like a Chihuahua being forced to walk in the rain. As a ginger, I am more sensitive to pain which is why, if you visit my home, you will find enough painkillers to stock a village pharmacy. During major operations as a child I required 20 per cent more anaesthetic than the kid in the next bed and I was far more susceptible to bleeding out as blood doesn’t clot as quickly. (I remember all these details from the doctors, nurses and surgeons from my weeks at a time in hospital.)

So, ok, I’m ginger! There, I said it. I can deal with that. However, a test of my strength of (sensitive, ginger) character hit hard when I also realised I was gay. Come on! How unfair did this seem at the time? I knew I was definitely not straight when I was 15 but it wasn’t until I began my teaching career in the early 90’s amid Section 28 that I knew I was most definitely gay.

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My first true love was a senior teacher (13 years older than me) and we were together for 9 and half years. However, for all of that time, due to Section 28, due to her not wanting to upset her elderly parents, due to her not wanting to attract attention, due to parents of pupils making derogatory comments following rumours around the village where we lived, we behaved outside the home as ‘just good friends’. This most definitely took its toll on our relationship and I ended it, feeling guilty. I left with nothing.

As if this wasn’t/isn’t enough, I have battled a severe anxiety disorder which presents (when unmedicated) in a range of ways: at worst, panic attacks so debilitating I can’t function enough to even get out of bed to take a shower; at best, I have extremely tidy, alphabetically-rearranged, colour-coordinated kitchen cupboards through an attack of OCD.

I am aware of an addictive personality which is not always a negative attribute (alcohol, food, self-harm), it can also have positive influences on my life. For example, during the recent lockdown, my obsession has been with maths! For me, this has been fabulous because, as a primary-trained, non-specialist maths teacher teaching GCSE maths to excluded teenagers, I feel that, at last, I am ahead of the game.

So, the ginger curse could have been much worse for me. I haven’t ever embraced it. I have yearned for my hair to turn naturally grey for years but it’s as stubborn as I am. I am currently rocking my natural colour, which is certainly less orange than it was when I was a child, and there are definite sprinkles of grey in there, so things are looking good.

In the grand scheme of things, I am in good health, have an amazing career and a loving, generous, kind partner. Curse of Ginger? I’ve got this.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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