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Pain in Spain: Why I still have more money than stents…

14 Sep

I WAS asleep when a chink of light  in the doorway alerted me. A man had entered Room 114.

A 6am intruder! The last thing I wanted on top of the angina attack that had put me in Torrevieja Hospital for four days and counting. Particularly with only a flimsy regulation-blue hospital gown for protection.
As I lay on the bed, squinting blearily into the darkness, the glint of metal told me the shadowy silhouette was on a business call.
He sat down on the bed – and  I realised he was brandishing two razors in his right hand.
My worst fears were confirmed. I was about to be shaved of my last vestige of dignity…by, of all people, the camp male nurse I had silently dubbed Dapper Diego.
I hadn’t the heart to protest as DD lifted my gown and, humming quietly, went to work. Donna’s pube train was at the sharp end of a potential disaster – and my only thought was that Diego might not mind the gap.
Five minutes later, the plucked chicken with the dicky ticker was ready for her heart-to-heart with the stentist later in the day.
More than 12 hours later as it happens. But of course, Torrevieja Hospital, like just about everyone in Spain, does everything manana.
Anyway, I eventually ended up at the mercy of  the guy whose job is to ping balloons into clogged up coronary channels. It sounds like a children’s party – and it might as well have been from the way the medical team laughed and joked their way through the entire procedure.
There was I, lying there with a catheter invading half my body via a gaping hole in  my femoral artery, and they were all cackling away in Spanish like kids playing doctors with a doll.
I certainly didn’t find it funny…though their trivialisation of it all did admittedly ease my own fears that my life was in danger.
Stentist? It was more like a dentist working upside down after administering laughing gas to himself and his staff.
And you’ve only heard a fraction of the story.
The previous weekend, an undertaker came to the rescue after I suffered a major angina attack at home. My good friend Mike, a funeral director by profession, was staying with me at the time and averted a potentially grave situation by calling the Spanish emergency services. Minutes later, I was in the back of an ambulance roaring down the N332 at 140kph with Vettel Mickey screeching behind in his rented Ford Ka.
I was about to receive proof – if any was needed – that the Spanish health service leaves the NHS standing. Even if it does seem to work at half the speed.
Torrevieja Hospital is a magnificent building with magnificent facilities …a credit to Spanish medicine in the 21st century.
That was evident from the moment I set foot – or rather wheels – on the premises.
I was whisked through the emergency admission process in a matter of minutes…with a slight hiccup when doctors discovered the handful of different medications Mike had grabbed from my bedroom drawer weren’t mine!
Assessed and then herded into a 32-bed observation ward, I shared the following eight hours with an array of characters of various nationalities in various states of discomfort.
Only an obligatory bland, salt-free apology for lunch eased the boredom. Plus the hope that I would be discharged later that day.
I suspect that is what the doctors intended because I was the only patient in the ward not to receive an evening meal.
Mind you, that changed big-time when the nurses got word of the poor starving waif in bed C-21.
They hunted around and unwittingly brought me a magnificent fully-flavoured meal that had clearly been intended for a non-coronary patient. Salt of the earth, those nurses.

For the next five days, home was a comfortable, modern en suite room of my own. And for me, Torrevieja is right up there with any British private hospital – with the exception, of course, that you don’t pay five-star hotel prices.
You get a much better view, too. Tourists would pay good money for the glorious panorama from Room 114 across the salt lake. Picture postcard stuff, particularly at night when the glow of lights on the far shore flickered on the water.
And in Dr Piotr Chochowski, I had the most caring of cardiologists. I’ve lots more to say  – but the main thing is that I’m not yet ready for my date with Mike and his Bury Boys..
And since I did not have to resort to private funding for the surgery, I still have more money than stents.

How I conquered my fear of flying – Funda-mental facts

24 Jul

I used to be so petrified of flying that I’d lock myself away in the airport loo half an hour before boarding and demolish a quarter bottle of neat Fundador.
Then I’d happily jet off to my destination full of carefree spirit, knowing that if the bottom fell out of the plane at 38,000 feet, I could ferry passengers and crew across the sky to safety using my own 40 per cent proof alcohol tank.
Even in those days, I was awafundadorre that flying was much safer than driving. So, indeed, are the masses of nervous people today who are so scared of air travel that they think a Ryanair loo and a hot flush are the same thing.
So why did I ever get into a flap over what is statistically the safest form of travel on earth (or a few thousand feet above it to be accurate)?
Global airline safety reports confirm there were a total of 90 commercial aeroplane accidents in 2013, just nine of which involved fatalities .
The 173 people killed on those doomed trips may seem a lot but when you look at the figures in the context of 32 million flights worldwide, the overall statistic of one accident per 300,000 flights and one fatality every three million trips proves conclusively that there is no safer form of transport.
If you are set on meeting St Peter at the Pearly Gates ASAP, then I can reveal that making the trip on two wheels is by far the best bet.
Yes, the riskiest way to travel anywhere is on a motorbike. Mile-for-mile, motorcycling is statistically 3,000 times more deadly than flying – and you are 100 times more likely to die travelling to Spain on four wheels than on a UK charter flight to or from the Costas.
Feel free to double the car-death figure if you include the loony Spanish fly boys who have brought a new skill to the art of driving. It’s called airborne overtaking and it’s soaring in popularity on my local autoroute.
I was approaching my fifties (in age, that is, not maximum driving speed) when I finally came to terms with the fear-of-flying nonsense. During a rare moment of airborne sobriety, my pickled brain came realised that Fundador-mentalism at ground level was much more likely to kill me than an extinct bird trying to board Ryanair ‘s smallest aircraft.
So when I now squeeze myself into one of Michael O’Leary’s tiny 3,000-seaters, I am reasonably relaxed, albeit still with the ability to panic whenever turbulence is around. Admit it, you laid-back veterans of sky travel – don’t you cast a quick look at the cabin crew’s faces whenever the engine sound changes or if the fasten seat-belt signs suddenly lights up?
I’m sure the aircraft staff are trained to remain calm at all times. But I defy them to keep a straight face if and when a desperate dodo sticks its beak into the starboard wing and the engine catches fire.
For all that, it’s great to be smugly dismissive of the occasional flyers who break into a round of applause when their holiday flight touches down. What’s coming next – a windbound for the driver?
For me, the most sobering thought is that my daughter and her other half run a major training centre for motorcycle riders in Manchester.
I need a drink. Anyone seen my hip flask?
PS. A thought on the new menace of terrorism in the air. In the wake of the 9/11 horror, airline passenger miles in the United States fell between 12% and 20% while road travel rocketed. By the time the panic ended and sky travel returned to normal, academics estimated that 1,595 extra lives had been lost. I never could figure out the Americans.

Alas Myth and Cones: Counting the Costa traffic jams in a city of red lights

18 Jul

I am lucky enough to have two homes. One is a sunshine villa 30 minutes’ drive from Alicante airport, the other a modest semi 18 miles north of Manchester’s three flight terminals.

An airport trip at the English end is subject to an electrifying hazard in the form of 50 sets of traffic lights. The consolation is that no more than 47 tend to be stuck on red at any given time.

If you are lucky enough to actually catch your flight, you do at least face a delightful evening discussing traffic lights with the Spanish cabbie driving you to Guardamar on the N332.

Mention the super-hazard of every street corner in Britain and the taxi driver’s conversation is likely to consist of a quizzical look and the words ‘Que es trah-fick-lie-eat?’

Odds are he won’t know what you are talking about because, believe it or not, there’s not a single set of the things between Alicante and my Costa Blanca home.

At the Manchester end one can, of course, avoid the red-light menace by heading for the airport via the city’s Park-And-Don’t-Move service, otherwise known as the M60 motorway.

That trip is no fun either, aRoadworks on the A21nd unless you give yourself at least two days to get to the airport, a couple of hours with your head immersed in 50 Shades of Red may well be less stressful than counting traffic cones.

Either way, both routes to the airport provide ideal material for a ‘100 Reasons to Escape Manchester’ publicity blitz.

What sort of voyeur gets a kick out of watching traffic cones breeding on the M60, for heaven’s sake? Last time I used the so-called ring road I counted 428 million giant ice-cream cornets during a six-mile crawl to the Trafford Centre. The 14-hour trip was marginally quicker than taking the car but my knees didn’t half hurt by the time I reached my destination. And I was suffering from orange-and-white colour blindness into the bargain.

One of the few perks of driving to Manchester airport via the city centre is that you can stop off for a coffee and a bacon butty. The down side is the £60 parking fine you’ll inevitably get in addition to burning off eight gallons of unleaded in a desperate attempt to park sideways on the single metre of kerb untainted by double yellow lines.

I appreciate that comparing the Costa del Salford with the Costa del Sol is akin to confusing Bury Market with the London Stock Market. But that’s a bourse-case scenario.

There are, in fact, many leisurely compensations for those who choose not to drive in what must surely be the wettest part of the UK. One is enjoying a morning swim to the office in downtown Mancunia’s high-street ocean, known to the aquatic community as the Sea of Umbrellas. The rush hour is so busy that there’s no choice but to do the crawl, and not only because the breast stroke is illegal and a butterfly as rare as an English Mark Spitz.

Which brings me on to football or, for the gob-fearing amongst us, the mouths of Wayne Rooney and Kompany.

Manchester is of course home to two top football teams, namely Bury and Oldham Athletic. Fortunately I don’t support Man United or Man City either, which is a bit of a relief since I don’t speak German (heaven help whoever puts the names on United players’ shirts) and with my flight back to Spain only 24 hours away, I’m pretty low on Sterling too (boom boom).

Oh, a geeky friend just called to say there are actually 49 sets of traffic lights between my Whitefield home and Manchester Airport. Using the bacon-butty route, that is.

I believe there are also 49 million traffic cones between Anfield in Liverpool and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

All paid for in Sterling, of course.


30 Jun

LIFE experts reckon young people don’t even think about their own mortality until they reach the age of 35.That’s their funeral. When they reach my age, they’ll think about it 35 times a die (sorry, day). With respect to the doom-mongers, I won’t let the thought of dying get me down half an inch, let alone six feet.

Let’s face it, there’s no point being too serious about anything because none of us is going to get out of this alive.  Death is arguably the most sensitive issue in life – but losing someone special is something we all  have to deal with it at some point. 

I just wish I had the courage to laugh in the Grim Reaper’s face and ensure that I go out in a blaze of glory. Heaven help me if the Reaper really does exist!.

The funeral scenario gets a whole lot worse as the years roll on. Your body starts to creak and you wonder if the tickle in your throat is about to escalate into a coffin fit.

It’s time to stop choking and start  joking. And that’s easier said than done  when you failed to turn up for your own Biblical D-for-Death appointment eight months ago.

It’s a grave thought but, going on Old Testament  chronology, my funeral plan should have exploded into action on October 10 last year, when I celebrated my three score years and 10 at my daughter’s home in north Manchester.  OK, to be strictly

accurate she lives in Bury. Hell, that’s ominous.

If I do actually pop my clogs on the big day this year, I guarantee the shock will kill me. So I’m hoping the Big Boss will grant me a bit more overtime instead.  Say 30 years in perfect health to take me through to a Lord’s  century?

 I’m dying to know what lies beyond the grave. Absolute believers like Jehovah’s Witnesses predict that God’s Kingdom will soon replace the  increasingly  rotten society we now live in.

The dead will be resurrected and put to a loyalty test,  while the wicked and disobedient will be destroyed. It’s a case of ‘Vote for the Jesus-God coalition and live forever in an idyllic world’.  

I guess that means you’re a dead cert for 10,000 years hard Labour if politics sends you to sleep and Ukip when you should be voting. Only consolation is that you’ll inevitably serve your time Clegg-less. The goodies live happily ever while the unfaithful push up daisies for the rest of their deaths.

Chain gang, here I come.


1. Going Underground – The Jam
2. Skull Of Kintyre –  Poor Yorick
3. The Hippy Hippy Wake – Swinging Blue Jeans
4. The Funeral Is Over – New Seekers
5. That’s Death – Frank Sinatra
6. Grave On – Buddy Holly
7. When You Walk In The Tomb – The Searchers
8. Hearse Of The Rising Sun – The Animals
9. The Road To Hell – Chris Rea
10. Good Mourning – Judy Garland

My living hell: Crohn’s Disease nearly killed me

2 Jun


(Donna Gee’s granddaughter)

The last nine months have been living hell for me. My Crohn’s has been horrific and I’ve been in and out of hospital many times. It all started when I went to Manchester Children’s Hospital and I was on 32 tablets a day and was rattling with drugs. I was doubled over in agony most of the time and was in desperate need of an operation to remove my extremely inflamed bowel. They did many scans and tests and found nothing. I had a nasal gastric tube placed which I hated and was fed through that and was not allowed to eat because I was vomiting when I did. My consultant did not think I required an operation and suggested most of my pain was psychological. This made me mad and upset me more than ever to think me being in pain most if not all of the time was being completely ignored. I went to Alder Hey children’s hospital which was very on the ball and my new consultant Dr Auth was fantastic and got all my MRI scans, bariums and scopes done straight away . When I woke up from an anaesthetic I was told I required an operation to remove some bowels and that it would be pretty straight forward. My operation was planned for two months time – not long after my 13th birthday. I went to my outpatient’s appointment in a wheelchair as I was in that much pain and so weak that I could hardly walk. Dr Auth said I had to be admitted straight away so I went to ward E3 for the night. The next morning I was wheeled down to ultrasound and they found the unexpected. I had no clue what was going on but my surgeon was called to ultrasound and was very concerned. Then I was told in two hours time I would be operated on. I was panicking like mad so my nurse gave me some premed before theatre to calm me down and I was all drugged up and completely out of it . I don’t remember anything after that . I had had the biggest operation of my life lasting seven hours. I had an abscess stuck near my kidney which nearly killed me and a stricture. I had lost loads of blood during the operation and needed a blood transfusion. I have had such a traumatic time and I just wanted to thank you all so much for doing this Walk for me it really does mean a lot. I wish I could be there to thank you all personally but I am so far behind with my studies that I really have no time for anything but schoolwork at present. You are all wonderful for supporting research which will hopefully make the sort of pain I have suffered a thing of the past. Your donations really do make a difference.To end I want to say a huge thank you to my grandma Donna for doing a sponsored slim to help CICRA and for making people more aware of the pain and suffering of children with Crohn’s through her column in The Courier newspaper in Spain.

My fundraising angels are the Crohn jewels of charity

2 Jun

ImageI’VE never been any good at expressing myself through a microphone ­– so forgive me for building a little gratitude grotto here.

For the past four months I have been trying to raise funds for a charity close to my heart…a cause dedicated to ending the suffering of youngsters like my granddaughter Daisy, who almost lost her life to Crohn’s Disease. (that’s her pictured with her baby brother Buddy)

My cunning plan was to try to lose two and a half stone through a sponsored diet. It was hardly a Mission Impossible…indeed it was Mission Dare Not Fail, because I could hardly let Daisy down by continuing to resemble the Princess of Whales.

In the 16 weeks I’ve been fighting the flab, I’ve lost all but half a stone of that 35lbs target, but it’s been tough going, believe me. I also made a mess of the sponsorship side because of my inexplicable embarrassment  when it comes to asking people for money. And because I was so naïve that I didn’t realise I should have recruited sponsors to back me BEFORE I started losing weight.

The end result is that although my online fundraising  stood at the start of this week at 25 per cent more than my original £500 target, I probably missed out on double that amount through my lack of fundraising skills.

But CICRA, the Crohn’s in Children Research Association, are about to get a big surprise, thanks to my amazing friends Dee Williams and Susan Reader and the unbelievable support of an expat community whose generosity knows no bounds.

Susan, one of the Costa’s most prolific voluntary fundraisers, and Dee – who runs Bar Sofia in El Raso,- decided to give a boost to my uninspiring efforts to fill CICRA’s coffers. I didn’t ask them to help…they formed their own Daisy chain and plated it with gold in the form of a Charity Walk and Fun Day

I had expected perhaps half a dozen sad souls to take part in the short 2.5km walk and perhaps a dozen to come along to the subsequent activities at Sofia’s.

There were five times that number, with dozens more thronging Sofia’s for the fashion show and commercial mini market that followed. The Walk and Fun Day, plus raffle and other ‘extras’, have already generated a staggering €1,200 plus…and the money is still coming in.

The bottom line is that the £759.93 I have raised for CICRA in sponsorship and gift aid is about to rocket to more than £2,000 even if nothing more comes in before I complete my diet on June 30.

Some €500 of this latest cash injection came from two sources….€200 from the now defunct El Raso Neighbourhood Watch, for which I thank Barbara Roebuck and Tony Bowhey in particular, and an unbelievable €300 collected personally by my neighbours Marie and Colin Whitfield. Ever-helpful and ever-willing, the golden hearted couple’s wad of sponsorship forms included the name of just about every soul on the urbanisation.

As I write, my Just Giving charity page shows only the £759.93 contributed to CICRA by sponsors of my diet. Sunday’s  jackpot will be added in the next few days but I doubt that will be the end of it… because the philanthropy of the expat community seems to know no bounds.

Just keep checking and you’ll see what I mean…