Friday 25 March 2016

Thought Picnic: Nothing matters more than sleeping well

All worked up
Yesterday morning full of anxiety bordering on trepidation, I wrote about the prospect of going to the hospital alone to commence a regime of gruelling treatment I was not particularly prepared for.
The outpouring of goodwill and best wishes with prayers, encouragement and support was overwhelming and wonderful, friends called, messages came and I prepared for my day ahead.
Each time I met a consultant over the last three years, they all talked about new drugs coming on-stream but punctuated everything with the element of cost. There were more affordable mainstream treatments that could last a whole year with significant side effects and that was what was on offer.
The prospect of subcutaneous injections was as terrifying as it could get, hypodermic needles have punctured enough holes in my epidermis, phlebotomies for vampires’ conventions, intravenous chemotherapy, intramuscular injections all those I could abide, but I have always drawn the line at pitching the flab of my abdomen for ingress. Find another place, I screamed when a nurse attempted to administer my nightly anticoagulant through my stomach wall when I was in hospital almost 7 years ago.
All mixed up
The plan was to get to the hospital, visit the pharmacy and collect my medication, then go up to see my consultant before I faced the abattoir, like a sheep for the slaughter, that was the imagery fully formed in my mind.
At the pharmacy, they had mangled my name on the prescription. Can you imagine, drugs worth tens of thousands of pounds and they got that wrong? Anyway, at least, the date of birth remains what it always was and that was fixed. A package containing a bottle of pills and up the stairs to my fate.
At the weighing station, a seat built on a scale, I had lost 2 kilogrammes and my blood pressure though normal for my condition could do with some notching downwards a bit. Time to visit that gym in the basement again.
All loved in
Suspense built up when I was called into a consulting room, “We’re giving you the best drugs on the market.” She said. I was not sure I heard her correctly, but I did not interrupt her as she went through dosage, side effects, emergencies and other protocols. “You seem a really nice gentleman.” She said, towards the end.
When I finally caught on what was happening around me, I asked when I was getting my injections. There were no injections, my terror dissipated in a puff. I almost cried, the relief! Never had one faced the prospect of something seemingly so grave at the hospital to be met with the desire to leave the hospital skipping away.
Probably it was not what I said before but the story in my blood work, the indicators showed the best improvement in 11 years apart from the urgent need to tackle the other condition, it made me a prime candidate for the new line of drugs and that was what I was offered.
All slept well
As I left the hospital, I hopped on a bus that was like an adventure into the wilderness plying the longest route to my destination. I did not even know when the bus was going the wrong way, the driver had to turn around, it did not matter one bit to me.
Most importantly, I had to rid myself of that morbid feeling of vulnerable incapacity that had invaded my zest for life and begin to look ahead to living and living well. In the midst of this, news came that I had been recalled to the place where I had concluded a 25-month contract just over a month ago.
I think it is the support and prayers of my many friends that turned a difficult day into a different and wonderful experience. How did I celebrate this? I got myself an original Tempur® pillow, in everything, nothing matters more than sleeping well. So far, the first night on the new medication, I feel fine.
Thanks for all your messages, prayers, support and encouragement. I’m happy.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Thought Picnic: Facing it alone again but it is well

Sent forth to bear
Just over 13 and a half years ago, in a foreign land, amongst strangers, I bore with stoicism and fortitude the heavy news of a grave diagnosis that left me comforting the bearer of the message.
Sometimes I wonder what strength and reserves come to the fore when faced with all sorts of circumstances, the ability to see beyond the situation whilst having to go through the many tough battles that have become interesting milestones in my life.
In terms, it probably goes back to when my parents thought the best way to toughen me up was to send me far away from home at the age of 10 to sit common entrance examinations for over 4 months to live between relations in the South-West of Nigeria from the north.
Ever-increasing distance
Since then and when I finally left for boarding school at 3 months short of my 11th birthday, I had literally left home and with that was the emotions and the life that has been singularly charted since then. My general welfare from the perspective of my parents and my guardians had simply been monitored through my academic reports and my behavioural development.
The result inadvertently has become a tenuous link borne of the relationship that was barely nurtured over my first ten years and the rest over conflict, disagreement, disappointment, anxiety, surprise and fleeting interest.
The fact is, no one in my family has the faintest idea of the reality of my life beyond the third week after my tenth birthday, we have increasingly grown distant from then, whilst they have only been affected by episodes of illness, of failure and of delinquency, the causes of which they never really bothered to explore and I just gone on with my life. With hindsight, there were periods of serious depression for which I got no help.
The walk on the wild side
Yet, as a result of their investments in the lives of others, I have been catered for and mentored by people who seemed to have given me a greater purpose in life and the courage to follow my convictions. The moment I had the opportunity and the ability to make my own decisions, I grabbed it and have never relinquished it.
It, however, does not get easier to face the challenges of life alone, but they are too far removed from my circumstances to be intimated and involved when new situations arise, that devolves to friends who are more acquainted with things as they stand today.
Maybe, we could have laid more groundwork for something more meaningful, there is a lot of blame to share amongst us in the scheme of things.
It is well
Today, I face something I am not as prepared for as I would have liked to be, not that any course of treatment presents a fanciful taste like sucking on sweets, but that is the way things are. When I attended 7 sessions of chemotherapy over 5 months in 2009/2010, I only had two of those sessions with friends accompanying me, the rest, I resolutely attended meditating in a reclined position, looking forward to the last session which would have been the eighth.
I am promised, it would neither be as gruesome nor as uncomfortable, it would have its discomforts, but they will be manageable. I may be going there alone, what I should avoid is the spectre of loneliness.
As they always say, by way of encouragement and support, ‘It is well’.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Shine a Spotlight on child sexual abuse

On Monday, I returned to my local cinema to watch Spotlight which was about how the Boston Globe researched and published the scandal of clerical child sexual abuse and how the Catholic Church hierarchy shovelled suspect and accused paedophiles out of parishes where they had become lightning rods to other parishes where they continued the abuse of children.
The problem with exposing this atrocious abuse was that the establishment, the church, politicians, the courts, public officials and influential people stood in the way of getting this truth revealed.
The tenacity of the Spotlight investigative journalism team was not only laudable and commendable, after they published their findings and that included hundreds of articles, they were awarded The 2003 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Public Service. The winning work appears on the page linked.
Protecting the church from the abused
There many facets to the story, from the fact that the longest established human organisation of political and religious influence was more concerned about its reputation at the expense of kids who were corrupted, abused, robbed of their innocence, defiled and worse.
The idea that at least 6% of priests could be involved in child sexual abuse was not only shocking and alarming, it was blindingly unconscionable that the church was ready to save the perpetrators and pay for the silence of the victims. Anyone who tried to expose this criminality faced the onslaught of condemnation, ostracism and every kind of reputational assassination by direct or indirect agents of the church.
A 7-year old’s experience
I needed to watch this film because of my own experience of abuse, I was hardly 7 when I was called into the toilet by a relation and asked to do things I did not understand, and the lifelong effect of that experience on me is lasting even if I am not defined by the experience.
What is more saddening is that some people who were trusted by my parents to care for us took sexual favours off us and there did not seem to be anywhere for us to find redress or healing, we were bruised, hurt and damaged by a loss of innocence and childhood.
Maybe, if I had the opportunity to talk to my 7-year old self again, I would have immediately run to my parents to report these violations despite the terror I felt from my abusers, the need to be heard, sympathised with and protected by my parents.
What the abused are up against
Then, back to Spotlight, the abused children faced even more insurmountable challenges, groomed by respected and respectable stalwarts of religion in their communities, where especially from deprived circumstances mothers were either naïve or conniving in allowing these men to access their children and abuse them, the children were caught in a vortex of wrongs stacked against them in all aspects of life.
Despite near and far relations, servants not a few, getting their way with me, I sometimes feel I was spared the vicissitudes of fortune that other abused children experienced from the clergy, in orphanages, in borstal and prisons, in the hands of evil paedophiles who stopped at nothing until they had murdered their quarry.
As the film ended, and the postscripts came on screen about the many places where clerical child sexual abuse had been confirmed, screen after screen revealed a city and somewhere amongst those names was Akure, Nigeria.
I wept for the many like me
I have always been of the opinion that despite the exhaustive exposé of these abuses in the West, we have not begun to unearth with any seriousness this clerical criminality in Africa, South America or Asia.
This along with many unreported defilements and rapes of minors, the atrocity of child marriages – girls given to the enterprise of sexual predators who have found the veneer of religion and customs to support their propensity to incurable paedophilia in the institution of marriage are things we still fail to address with the singlemindedness of saving the child from all harm.
I watched the credits of Spotlight sobbing almost uncontrollably because I knew from the depictions that many children never got to tell their stories, some committed suicide, most lives were irretrievably damaged, very few found the platform to relentlessly go after the people who abused them against all odds.
The damage is hardly understood
Nothing can ever restore the innocence of a child so abused, no restitution can fully recompense for the way society has acquiesced to allowing abuse to go on unchecked and no punishment can fully atone for the sexual abuse of minors, yet we must acknowledge these sexual predators exist amongst us, no matter how highly placed and that they must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
We all owe the children a duty to be ready to protect, ready to listen and ready to understand what they face when approached, groomed and abused. It must not be mentioned amongst us again that children are sexual fodder for people who will be protected from any sanction and essentially granted the immunity for the impunity to lasciviously prey on helpless kids.
Shine the Spotlight on all abuse and refuse for it to continue a minute longer.

Sunday 13 March 2016

The Big Short on my life and those of others

The patterns I see
When it comes to financial matters, I have always said my father is a brilliant accountant, but it did not come down through the genes. Successful as he was in his profession which he still practices on behalf of the Anglican diocese in which he resides, only one of my siblings took a career path that had any financial component.
However, I somehow have an affinity for noticing patterns, things that align and things that seem to be out of place, unfortunately, I have never exploited that knowledge to the full as over time I have watched things that were once an inkling become an industry where if I had been more driven by my deepest premonitions, I would have been one of the pioneers. No regrets.
In March 2000, I travelled to Munich for an interview with the now defunct Compaq Inc., I decided to spend a week there and during my visit I met with a futures trader who was heavily leveraged in stocks. My reading of the situation then was things were about to collapse, simply because I noticed a pattern.
My advice to him was to reduce his exposure, he looked at me with incredulity, within weeks the bubble burst and the rest is history.
As it touched me
I have a more personal story about how I was affected by the markets, just less than a decade later. I bought my apartment in Amsterdam 2001, having given my estate agent 6 weeks to complete the deal to pick up my keys on the 1st of November 2001.
It was a 105m2, 7th-floor apartment with large windows overlooking two old Amsterdam harbours, a wonderful place by any standards. My mortgage was at inception the same as paid for rent in another part of Amsterdam for about 18 months.
The trajectory as it then was, whilst the housing market seemed overheated, the interest rates were going down, and this happened progressively every two years until about 45% was shaved off my mortgage in 6 years.
That other marker
Meanwhile, there was an underlying current that should have sent alarm bells ringing that I ignored until it was too late. My mortgage was undergirded by a life insurance policy that I paid a hefty sum to every year and in the mortgage term of 25 years, it was supposed to have accumulated enough to pay off my mortgage.
Each year, accounting for administration costs and much else, nothing was being compounded into the policy, rather, I was seeing less of what I put in that I had to ask for a review of the conditions of my mortgage to ensure I had not been defrauded.
Everyone who had worked on my mortgage had already walked away with their commissions as the signs of a financial crisis appeared on the horizon with the sub-prime mortgage defaults in the United States.
The tsunami I could not outrun
I could not ignore what was happening, yet I felt like there was an earthquake somewhere far away and the water was receding from the beach in anticipation of a tsunami I could not escape, it was scary.
As so I wrote in August 2007:
Then casually in October 2007:
The tsunami had already come in and swept me away from my apparent comfort zone, a revision of my biennial fixed term mortgage saw a rise of 50 basis points, some consequent outgoings of about €550 a month in addition to what I was already paying.
No particular fault of ours, only the banks shoring up their books having messed up and gotten bailed out, with none of the people in charge of this debacle going to jail for anything, if any even got to be questioned for their atrocity.
Swept away
By then, it had become a case of Fixing Capitalist Errors with Socialist Favours which I wrote in December 2007.
Within two years of that, I was diagnosed with cancer, got treated, recovered, but the markets had dealt a blow to our livelihoods, the job markets also began to introduce unfavourable filters to eliminate foreigners from consideration where we once freely had access.
In the end, I sold my apartment at a loss after 10 and a half wonderful years, though barely covered by the insurance and eventually returned home to the UK to rebuild my life.
The Big Short
Earlier today, I went to watch The Big Short which is described as a biographical comedy-drama, and whilst I will agree it is biographical and it is a drama, it was no comedy when we look at the disaster it caused in millions of lives whilst those who found out what was wrong with the system walked away laughing to the bank.
At worst, the banks have been fined billions by the regulatory bodies, but there have been no major indictments, the legislative framework that was to help avoid a similar collapse of the banking system has been watered down and the banks have more or less returned to their brand of casino banking with new banksters slinging guns of dubious provenance as products of the highest quality.
We’re back on that merry-go-round of atrocity for which the generality of the populace has been made to pay dearly for in austerity and worse, whilst the politicians and the banks waltz away in illicit copulation.
Yet, in understanding this rotten and corrupt enterprise a bit more, history is probably going to repeat itself worse than before and the criminals will once again walk free.
Woe betide them.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Thought Picnic: Warding off depression

Not right, no write
In a way, my blog has suffered in this year in many ways that I sometimes do not want to acknowledge. However, I cannot fail to notice that I have hardly written in 10 weeks of this year what I would normally have written in a month.
Yet, it is not for the lack of things to write about, there seems to be a preoccupation with other things and unsettling distractions that divert focus from the essential and the important. I have become a sort of hermit, in a recluse and creating a kind of isolated existence that is broken only when I have to attend appointments.
Typically bussed
One such open appointment was a visit to the hospital yesterday just for a phlebotomy, I would normally have called an Uber ride to the hospital, but a price surge early in the afternoon when I had just received an email about a 14% price cut across the board on all fares left me feeling I did not want to be unnecessarily fleeced.
Many times, I had seen the bus to the hospital on diversion past my apartment block, but the roadworks had finished, I needed to find where to board the bus. On my way to the bus stop, I saw two buses go by, the same number, different routes – just the kind of confusion you need.
On getting to the bus stop that both the double-decker and single-decker bus would ply, the timetable indicated 10 minutes between buses, but the next bus did not arrive for another 18 minutes.
The bus driver had no change for a £20 note and motioned to me to take a seat, giving me a free ride to the hospital.
Pricks and drips
On getting to the blood room as it is called, there was only one other patient waiting, I thought they had closed for the day and it was not yet 2:00 PM. The room at other times usually has over 10 patients waiting as I started a conversation with the lady.
Soon she was called in and then I was where on giving her date of birth, there was no way any of us could believe she was 65. This session only required one vial of blood as opposed to the 9 I had to give just over a month ago.
We were done in minutes and as I stepped out of the hospital, I saw a bus that could take me back into town, only that again, this bus driver on a different bus did not have change either. This meant going to the hospital café to get a drink and with that some change with which I was then still able to catch the same bus and I was soon back at home.
Many other plans are tentative, nothing fixed and not much else followed through, the day passes slowly and almost uneventful, the need for determination, purpose and focus is clear or maybe I am just depressed.

Saturday 5 March 2016

Thought Picnic: Looking ahead

Each waking day is a blessing, the way I see things differs from the way I once saw things. That dividing line sits at the point when the reality of my situation was quantified as having just 5 weeks left to live after a cancer diagnosis.
In other blogs, I have written about the choices I had and the advice I was given, in that if I did not respond well to the treatment being offered, I probably had no other options but one of slipping away. I survived and have counted over six years since I heard that news.
Yet, I struggle within myself about what lies ahead of me, it is a difficult battle, a mind in flux seeking a calmness and sense of ease whilst aware that things are not what they used to be.
At my last medical consultation which was almost a month ago, I was both unhappy and dissatisfied, I normally write about these visits, but I let this pass.
In the space of 4 years, my medical file has seen 4 hospitals and for all the appointments I have had since returning to the UK, apart from in Wales, I have not had the pleasure of seeing my assigned consultant on two visits in a row. In fact, I have seen everyone who works in the department and each conversation requires going over what I had done many times before.
For a condition that I have been promised will be tackled as soon as possible, and that was three years ago, I only finally got an appointment to commence treatment in a few weeks. I guess it came down to telling the consultant on my last visit that I am quite well aware of my mortality if they decide not to do anything soon.
Now, I do not want to dice with death or have it daily occupy my thoughts, I love the things I do and would love to enjoy life more without having a medical sword of Damocles hanging over my head.
Then, the reality is, after cancer, life ahead has two perspectives, one of recognised vulnerability and the other of new opportunity, and you have to live both.
I have seen friends afflicted with fates much worse than mine and seen people go out to try new things as if they bathe in a pool of inexhaustible youth and pleasure. It becomes a quest that no matter how good the past was, better days should be ahead.
I want to celebrate the joy of living, the happiness of laughter, the warmth of love and the experience of amazing wonder in people and in nature. Ahead in the uncertain is that one should live like the end is nigh and then live like the tomorrows will have no end.
What to expect from the next line of treatment is not clear, but I hope I have the fortitude and stoicism to face it even better than when I had chemotherapy coursing through my veins.
If I get to sigh, it is one that says, whilst we are living, let’s live and live well.