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Saturday, 15 August 2020

When it sounds simple but is anything but

  There are words and phrases that will become synonymous with 2020:

  • unprecedented
  • social distancing
  • lockdown
  • test and trace
  • clap for carers.
One that I have come across recently is 'quick and simple'. Everything is being made to sound simple but my experience is that many things are not as simple as they should be.

Symptoms

We were initially given two symptoms that we should be aware of: 
  1. fever
  2. new persistent cough.
More recently they have added change/lack of smell/taste. 

This sounds simple. They keep saying it on the news. If you experience these symptoms, you must self-isolate and get a test. 

It's all simple. It's simple to recognise the symptoms. It's simple to self-isolate. It's simple to get a test. 

Well, let's start with the symptoms. 

Fever

Let's leave aside my disability for now. Fever is an initial symptom of hundreds of different illnesses. In the East Riding, covid infection rates are currently at 2 per 100,000 of the population. The chances are, fever is an indication of something else, but Covid-simplicity means that we now immediately assume it could be covid. 

Now let's add in the complications of a disability. There are infections that are more common for people like me. I have to self-catheterise daily, which can increase the risk of urine infections. I'll be honest, sometimes I get a bit sick of doing it and miss a day or two and then kidney infections are a possibility. I spend my whole time wearing incontinence pads, which are less comfortable than nappies, and these can cause infection. Trouble is, I can't feel much down there, so the first sign that something is wrong is often fever. Any sensation-based symptoms take much longer to make their presence felt.

A lesser-known effect of spinal cord injuries is that your body can be less able to regulate bodily functions, such as temperature. I have found that if I spend too long in a hot environment, my body temperature goes up and I find it difficult to get it back down again. We've been drifting in and out of heatwave, so when my temperature went up on the Friday, I thought little of it. It was 30oC outside, and I was working in a garden office that was not dissimilar to a sauna.

Cough

It's quite simple, if you have a new persistent cough, get tested. A couple of times since the pandemic began, I have coughed and provoked the question, "How long have you had that cough?" I've been asthmatic since I forgot to turn the fume cupboard on in a chemistry practical in about 1991. I ended up breathing concentrated sulphuric acid and since then, I've had a cough. 

My asthma is now really well controlled. I can't even remember the last attack I had, but I do cough a lot. 

I also choke a lot. That is potentially more embarrassing, as I can't control it at all. A bit of food gets stuck and off we go! Once I start coughing, that's it! I can't stop! During this pandemic, I've evacuated a market area in a busy city and an entire country park with my choking.

Get a test - it's quick and simple

I've lost count of the number of times Matt Hancock has said this. You must get a test if you have symptoms. It's quick and simple.

When my temperature was up again on Monday (after being fine all weekend) I was a little more worried. It was still hot outside but not as intense, and I'd worked in the house which was cooler. I was also coughing a little more than usual... so I ordered a test.

Test centres

The website declared that our nearest test centre was 10 miles away. Sounds great, except that this is measured as the crow flies. The town in question is the other side of a large estuary and, not being a bird, and being rubbish at flying, we would have to drive round said estuary, on a 50 minute each way drive. 

The system being simple as it is, didn't give the option to search further.

Home test

On the surface, this seemed a better option. The site assured users that the test would be delivered next day. You then pop it in a priority post box and will get results, probably within 24 hours of it arriving at the test centre. Results are texted and emailed.

SIMPLE!

I ordered the test, first thing in the morning. It did arrive next day but not until 8:00 pm. We had to post it before 4:00 pm. So it missed that day's post. 

Don't even get me started on how 'simple' administering the test was. It was hilarious! You have to wash your hands for 20s before and after cleaning a surface to put your test kit on, and again before and after blowing your nose, and again later in the process. My hands have never been so clean, though may have little skin left!

Royal Mail tracking did enable us to know that the test arrived at the test centre at around 8:30 am on Thursday... 6 days after the initial high temperature. 

It is now Saturday and we still don't have the results. I do, however, have other symptoms that would indicate a urine infection. 

Self-isolation

While this whole fiasco is in process, the advice is simple. Do not leave the house... except to post your test kit.

Thankfully, we are now well sorted with online shopping. On the down side, I have an assistance dog that has bundles of energy and needs daily exercise and our house and garden, whilst not tiny, aren't big enough to provide all her exercise for this long.

So we've been taking her for walks but trying to time it so that we don't meet anyone. I haven't used my crutches for walks, just in case I fall and need help. I've been using my wheelchair only. So technically, I haven't touched anything. In theory, we should have got someone to walk her but not everybody has family and friends nearby and I was not going to ask either of our 80 - 90 year old neighbours to walk her! 

Based on the old rules of 7 days, I should now be fine to go out but they've recently changed it to 10 days, so that takes me to Monday and for hubby, until next Friday. So we've cancelled our plans for the weekend and we'll continue to stay in, except for dog walking, until we get results... which feels like it might never happen. 

And, simple though it all sounded at the beginning of the week, I'm now 99% certain that the results will be negative and that I'll be getting antibiotics for a urine infection as soon as I'm clear to go to the doctor's. Meanwhile, I'm trying to flush it out and drinking so much water that it's probably best to stay indoors anyway. 

I have searched for some information that might cover the possibility that you follow this simple procedure and then realise that the fever was something un-covid-related but there simply isn't anything to help me.

What have I learned?

Firstly, I have learned to be very sympathetic with those who have symptoms but don't get tested. If I'm honest, I wish I hadn't bothered. As we're nowhere close to resuming pre-covid activity, it is highly unlikely that I will get it. We're not really seeing anyone other than our sons, one of which is fully isolating (so we hardly ever see him anyway) and the other who has spent most of his life self-isolating and so is also lower risk. 

We have both been actively trying to lose a bit more weight, as being overweight isn't covid-helpful. However, I am now gaining weight because of lack of proper exercise, in spite of only consuming around 1400 calories a day. This has highlighted to me, how much I need my exercise!

Don't dust (especially a house that hasn't been dusted for months!) It makes you cough... especially if you're asthmatic.

So next time my temperature goes up, I'll keep my trap shut and continue as normal, which basically means social distancing (2 - 3m minimum) and wearing a mask where that isn't possible. I'll also continue to wash my hands (as I have done since childhood). Unless I get severe and definite symptoms, I won't be ordering a test. In reality, you have to order the test before you have symptoms for it to be useful anyway. 

Conclusion: it is definitely NOT quick OR simple!

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Not so low fat strawberry muffins

A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe for low fat banana muffins. It's important to have some good low fat recipes for those days when you sit on your bum all day and do nothing... I mean do mental work instead of physical. Then you need a not low fat recipe for when you are physically active or just need the comfort of a sugar rush. 

I also needed a recipe that used strawberries because my raised bed is delivering at an unmanageable rate and I don't want to waste a single strawberry, but they don't last very long and the freezer is currently full. Nice problem to have!

Ingredients

150g plain flour (I tried it with gluten-free flour and decided it also needed xanthan gum)
1 heaped tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg (big is best)
50g butter, melted (if you need dairy-free, just substitute this for your usual marg)
75g soft light sugar
220g strawberries, washed and chopped pretty small (if you have a glut of produce, like me, I recommend separating out the wonky strawberries from the perfectly formed ones and keep the latter for something where looks matter)

A wooden chopping board full of finely chopped strawberries
Wonky strawberries for muffins
A bowl full of perfectly formed whole strawberries
Pretty strawberries for eating
 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 or 200oC. If you're American or for some reason still use F temperatures or if you're a geek and think in Kelvin, you're going to have to convert for yourself, or Google it. Also, get all your stuff ready and put 6 or 7 muffin cases into a tin. I prefer silicon ones, unless I'm giving them away. 

A 6-hole muffin tin with alternate blue and purple silicon muffin cases
Prepared muffin tin


2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. If, like me, you resorted to getting your plain flour from a discount shop due to Covid-flour-famine, it might need some encouragement to get it through the sieve.

A sieve full of flour, baking powder and salt, over a large plastic bowl
Sieve dry ingredients


3. In another large bowl, whisk the egg, butter and sugar until all smooth and gooey. You could also add vanilla essence here, if you like it.

Glass bowl containing egg, melted butter and sugar
Egg, butter and sugar ready to whisk
Wet ingredients after whisking. It looks like a pale brown soup.
Wet ingredients after whisking


4. Sieve the dry ingredients from the first bowl into the wet ingredients. Delia always recommends a double sieving and she is the expert on such matters.

5. Quickly and lightly, fold in the dry ingredients.

6. Add the chopped strawberries and mix these in too. Try not to be tempted to steal any to eat now and/or give treats to the dog.

Raw muffin mixture with the strawberries mixed in.
Raw muffin mix


7. Share the mixture between 6 or 7 muffin cases. As usual, I recommend making a spare, so you can test one and still have half a dozen for any socially distanced guests.

Blue muffin case full of the raw mixture
Filled muffin case


8. Bake in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes. When done, they will look like cooked muffins, instead of raw ones, and a pricker will come out nice and dry.

Freshly cooked muffins, still in the tins
Freshly cooked muffins


9. Whilst they are cooking, lick the bowl out. This is very important. Nanny, from whom I learned everything I know about baking, taught me this. It also makes washing up a bit easier too.

10. When cooked, put them on a wire rack to cool. Whilst cooling, eat muffin number 7 hot.

Cooked muffins cooling on a black wire rack. They look extremely tasty!
Seven freshly cooked muffins - though one won't be around much longer!

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Processing #blacklivesmatter as an outsider

The last couple of weeks have seen social media filled with posts connected to the #blacklivesmatter agenda. It's kind of weird as a white woman trying to work out where I stand on this. I fully support the cause. The very fact that police are targeting black people more than white people, which is happening in the UK too (All the data on black people and the police in England and Wales) is just unacceptable and completely wrong.

Whilst I haven't experienced discrimination based on the colour of my skin, I have experienced discrimination based on other characteristics: disability, gender, age, language, even accent. Every time I have experienced discrimination, it has been hurtful and has made me feel like less of a person. And that's not okay.

So my first question is: why are some people racist? Maybe the bigger question is: how do we become prejudiced?

I had a little look around the Internet and found a couple of articles that helped me to begin to consider this.

Why are people racist? - this is targeted at Australian young people. It focuses on how early relationships influence our views, how we take on the views of our family and friends, and how we then form connections with others that reinforce those views.

The psychology of racism - this addresses the idea that somehow racism is a natural thing that enabled early humans to have access to food and resources. I have to admit, this would never have crossed my mind. I was quite relieved to read that the theory is probably unfounded.

Racism vs discrimination: why the distinction matters - I found this one easiest to relate to. It made me question my own prejudices, which I think are mainly connected to other characteristics than race, but do include some racial aspects.

What this article does suggest, is that open and honest discussion about prejudices is needed. The way to avoid discrimination is to be more self-aware and to feel safe to acknowledge where we have biases, whether conscious or unconscious.

As a child, I don't recall being prejudiced at all. I grew up without much awareness of the wider world. I didn't watch TV at all, never mind the news. The first experiences I had of meeting people from other races, were positive (for me at least).

1. There was one black girl at my secondary school. She was very beautiful! Her skin was so smooth and her hair fascinated me. I once ended up behind her in the dinner queue, and I tried to touch her plaits without her noticing. I just wanted to know what her hair felt like. Mine was straight and straggly and I plaited it to keep it out of the way. I would have done anything to have Hattie's hair. I even went home and tried to do my hair in lots of little plaits like hers, but it didn't work with my hair.

2. There was one shop in town that was owned by a Pakistani man. He was quite sceptical of teenagers, only allowing two at a time in the shop. This didn't bother me. I mean, I just accepted that he had probably had teenagers stealing from him and was responding to protect himself. He sold sweets in jars, the old fashioned way, and I loved buying sweets there. What really stood out to me though, was that this man had no staff. He alone ran his shop and it was open from early morning to late at night. I don't think he ever had holidays. I was struck by this level of hard work, commitment and dedication to his business.

Without realising it, prejudices and biases were beginning to form. I had learned that black people are more beautiful than white people and that Pakistanis are harder working than English people. Why did I associate these with a whole race, rather than an individual? I don't know. Maybe because each of them represented ALL the people I had encountered from their race at that time.

I had other prejudices form as I grew up, not connected to race. I learned that most men are violent and are likely to harm women. You can trust old people but not young people. I also learned, growing up on a large council estate that being part of a defined group, connected to where you live, can give you protection if you stay in your location but can be a problem if you go to a rival estate. As a young girl, afraid of pain and fighting, I went with the idea of keeping a low profile and trying to fit in when I had to walk near another estate. Of course, this affected my beliefs about culture and that still feeds into my adult views.

Human views are really very complex. Each of us has had experiences that have caused deeply rooted beliefs about all kinds of things. Sometimes these reinforce each other and sometimes they cancel each other out.

I'm lucky, my experience of black people has remained positive. I still maintain what started as a joke, my biggest prejudice is against black BMW drivers. By that I mean people who drive black BMWs, not drivers of BMWs who are black. It's the colour of the car, not the person. I don't know how this prejudice started. It has developed in the last 5 years, and is largely connected to the area where I live. In this area, it just seems that black BMWs are driven in such a way to put others at risk. Of course, then, every time I see an accident involving a black BMW, my views are reinforced.

It's easy to see how the same could happen with racist views. It could start with one experience, which is backed up by another experience and then all the positive encounters go unnoticed whilst further negative encounters reinforce the racist beliefs.

I definitely think the key is more honest discussion. What do we assume when we are confronted by a negative situation? I've just seen on the news, an incident from yesterday's #blacklivesmatter protests. Somebody (unseen) pushed a bike into a police horse, causing it to bolt and injure the rider and another protester. The horse was clearly very frightened and whoever did it... well, that's the question. What do I assume about the person who did it?

I'll be honest, I didn't think about whether that person was black or white. I did assume they were male. I did assume he was young (probably between 20 and 30 years old). I made assumptions about how he was dressed and what his voice sounded like. I assumed he was shouting aggressively. I also assumed that he was there more to cause trouble than to support the original cause.

If pressed, I might actually assume that this person was white... that maybe his intention was to discredit the cause, make the protesters look bad.

There, you see, I've decided that I know an awful lot about a person who I have never even met. You might not have done that. You might be a better person than me.

I'll tell you what I didn't think. I didn't assume that the bike-hurler was a white middle-aged woman in a wheelchair.

I'll tell you what else I didn't think. I didn't think it was just an accident. I didn't think it was possible that somebody had just cycled down a hill and their brakes failed and they saw impending doom and jumped off the bike just before it hit the crowd. But that is also a possibility... not the way the media showed it... but possible.

So yeah, the media also play a large role in developing our views. Social media does too, maybe even more so.

I think, having processed some of what is happening right now, we all have a whole range of biases and prejudices, often unconscious, that are responsible for our initial reaction to a situation. In order to challenge and change these views, some of which might be right but many not, we need to be open and honest about them. We need to be able to discuss them without feeling attacked or threatened. We need to be able to make decisions about them... whether they are based in fact or fear.

Prejudice is something we all have within us. Discrimination is when we act on those prejudices in such a way that we treat a person or a group badly because of our prejudices. That's not okay. It is wrong.




Sunday, 24 May 2020

Low fat banana muffins

I've never done this before but I love baking and often adapt recipes and ways of working so that I can bake independently and enjoy nomity treats without putting on weight. So from time to time, I may share a recipe or two...

I've been trying really hard to cut down on the amount of stuff we throw away, so where possible, I will suggest non-disposable items and recipes that use up food that might get thrown away.

Low fat banana muffins

This recipe has no butter/margarine in it and uses half rye and half plain flour. It is easy enough to make without an electric mixer, as there is no beating and it doesn't create too much washing up.

6 low fat banana muffins cooling on a cooling rack; one muffin on a plate, ready to eat while it is still warm


Ingredients

50g dark rye flour
75g plain flour
3 rounded tbsp light soft brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
50 ml oil
50g natural yogurt (low fat)
2 mashed bananas (best to use the ones that are so ripe you thought about chucking them)

Preparation

Pre-heat the oven to 200oC
Put 7 silicon muffin cases into a muffin tray (that way you can test one and still leave a nice half dozen for later)

Method

  1. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. 
  2. Add the sugar. 
  3. Whisk the egg, oil and yogurt together.
  4. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ones.
  5. Stir with a spoon.
  6. Add in the mashed banana and stir.
  7. Divide the mixture between the muffin tins.
  8. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes.
  9. When they are done, they will look nice, smell nice and a cake pricker will come out nice and clean when you stab a muffin through the heart.
  10. Put six of the muffins on a cooling rack for later and eat the seventh one while it is still warm. That way, all the calories will just melt away.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

A new set of wheels

It's a problem children face - growing out of their wheelchair and needing a new one, even though the old one is still fine. Except, children grow. I shrunk. My old chair is 18"/19" wide, because that's what I needed when I bought it 4 to 5 years ago. Now, I'm a good 2" narrower and I rattle around in my old chair. It no longer supports me properly and there are several aspects that I wanted to change.

My new chair

So here is my new chair. It's a Kuschall K-series.

I'm sitting in my new Kuschall wheelchair. It has a purple frame which is all new and shiny. The wheels are a just standard wheels.

The first thing I wanted to change was the colour. My old chair is white, which is lovely, but a pain to keep clean. White shows all the scratches too. This time, with Canine Partners in mind, I've gone with purple. Now Liggy and my chair match.

I'm sitting in my new chair and Liggy, my black lab assistance dog, has jumped up and has her front paws on my lap.


Colour isn't that important though really. So some of the other changes are:

  • Width - this chair is a standard 16" wide. This will support me better but also will get through narrow doors and other spaces more easily.
  • Lower back - with hindsight, the back on my old chair is too high. It gets in the way of my arms and I frequently have bruises from bumping my upper arms on it. This one is much lower, as you'll see in the next photo.
  • Front casters - I love the flashing front casters because they attract attention and look really cool. However, they are very hard and are quite uncomfortable on rough surfaces. Also they are thin and that makes thick pile carpers so tiring. So this time, I've gone for wider, softer casters. If I don't like them, I have a plan B but for now, I'm giving them a go.
  • Seat cushion - I wish I'd done more research last time about cushions, as they can make a big difference to comfort. The wrong cushion can result in sores and nobody wants those. This time, I've got a gel cushion. It's heavy but really comfy and it sort of cools you. 
  • Foot plate - this time, I've got the footplate tucked under so that I can tuck my legs out of the way. Also, posture-wise, I'm hoping this will enable me to go faster when I need to. Again, it will help with tight spaces too. I've got a much smaller turning circle now.

The back of my wheelchair, showing the lower back.

Wheels

The only thing I really don't like about this chair, is the wheels but that is just a temporary problem. On Wednesday, my new wheels should arrive. I've ordered a pair of Loopwheels Urban. They are one of their new products and if they are as good as my old Loopwheels, I just know they will be amazing! I'm very excited about getting them and will be posting pictures and videos to show you what they are like. 

Meanwhile, I'll just have to make do with these wheels. They are just normal wheels, with an inner tube and a standard tyre. The pushrims are narrow metal ones, which I find difficult to use but with gloves, I'll manage for a few days.

Attaching Liggy

I'll post more about this next time but my old chair has an attachment on it, that Canine Partners put there. It's firmly attached and has a squiggly metal pole, like a pigtail, that I attach Liggy's lead to. I had hoped to find a less permanent option and I've got a couple of carabiners that attach with a velcro strap but I tried them yesterday and they move around too much. We may have to move the permanent attachment over, but if we do, I want something under it to protect my paintwork. It's made a right mess of my old chair!