How To Stay Positive

Positivity has been fairly key to getting through the last few months with as little damage to myself, my friends and my family as possible.  It is not easy to be positive when you have got things going on whether they are medical, financial or anything else but I have got a few tips for things that I have tried to do to help me.

Set your wallowing limits

This is an old, well practised strategy of mine.  If something goes wrong or something is tough, let yourself be sad/angry or whatever negative feeling comes but set yourself a time limit – for example, give yourself a day and then move on and start focusing on the positives.  Disclaimer – this didn’t work too well when I was on the drugs, I didn’t really have control over how I felt!

Remember – This too shall pass

I think it is important to be able to look past whatever is challenging your positivity, whether that is looking to the end of a recovery or looking forward to events in the future.  Making plans for the future has helped to keep my mind on track and given me something to aim for.

Count your blessings

I firmly believe that whatever you are going through you can identify things in your life that are good!  This was an easy one for me during this recovery, I have so many people and things to be thankful for.

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Remember someone else is worse off

Obviously this is completely dependent on what your particular challenge is but I’m sure you can always find someone else’s situation that puts yours into perspective.  When I was on crutches, I watched a lot of videos and films of people (real and fictional) who have been paralysed or had amputations which completely stopped me from feeling sorry for myself! Who recognises this film?

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Exercise

If you can’t make yourself feel more positive by persuading your brain that you should, the scientific way should help.  We’ve all heard it before – when you exercise your body releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy.  One of the most frustrating parts of my recovery was not being able to exercise as much as normal but from the second day I was allowed to do my rehab exercises and each week I have been allowed to do more and more.  It makes me feel stronger and it makes the light at the end of the tunnel shine brighter!

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Tack Tales

Today I am taking up the challenge from Haynet and Equestrian Co to write about my tack because a.  I love talking about anything and everything to do with Pea (if you haven’t read her story please do) and b.  I would really love to win a tack trolley to help my post hip replacement body not have to carry so much!  For me, each piece of Pea’s tack is special.  It represents her new (or now not so new) life as a single human owner.  It represents me and us and the sheer joy of PopPea (our totally cringe couple name).

The Bridle

Long before I bought Pea (while I was leasing her), I bought her a Kincade flash bridle from Countrywide (RIP).  It was no different to the bridle she had already, aside from the fact that it was my first proper purchase for her (numnahs dont count!)  It is now hung on the wall in my spare room/study with our rosettes.

The Browband(s)

I learnt how to make patterned browbands out of ribbon when I first started leasing Pea in April 2014 which was the start of a series of girly browbands for Pea.  I have always run with the theory that if I’m going to have a pretty little mare, I can get away with pink, sparkles, patterns and all things girly.  Once Pea had gone through blue and white ribbons, pink ribbons and all sorts of other bright and beautifuls, I treated her to her first diamonds (ha!)  In November 2015, Rachel (my top hacking buddy) and I celebrated our birthdays with a trip to Your Horse Live.  It was amazing, we loved it and I came away with the most tasteful sparkly browband I could find!

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The Saddle

This was the biggy.  Once I had bought Pea (in 2016), I needed and wanted to get her a saddle of her own.  The saddle Pea has before I bought her used to belong to a different pony.  It fitted fine but it wasn’t altered to fit her and it certainly didn’t fit my bum very well!  I opted for a Thorowgood T8 Cob GP saddle.  I wanted to buy new but my budget was pretty limited having just, for the first time in my life, bought a pony!  We had a few Thorowgoods at the yard and I liked the flexibility of the changeable gullets.  The Thorowgoods we had were T4s and I had seen far too often how long it takes for a suede seat to dry out after a rainy hack so I knew I didn’t want one of those.  The day the saddler came to fit my saddle was the day I truly felt the difference a saddle could make.  At that point I could barely pick up canter but with my new saddle, I was cantering all round the school!  My saddle genuinely went home to bed with me in the early days.  I loved it then and I always will however much some people frown upon it for only being part leather!

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The Girth

At the same time I bought the saddle I bought Pea her own girth.  It is non slip and elasticated on both ends from Dever.  My saddler recommended it to me due to the rather round belly of Pea.  I have never had any saddle slip issues so it must do its job – it is a regular reminder of how well Pea’s diet plan is going!

The Stirrups

In the summer of 2016 I bought my own stirrups – chunky Compositi Reflex stirrups with a wide tread.  These are more a representation of my failings rather than the joy of some of the rest of our tack.  I did and still have found it hard to keep my feet where they should be, particularly my left (formerly known as my ‘bad side’!)  I figured the width and non slippy nature of these stirrups would help me.  I hope that with my new ‘new side’ and improved bionic body (post hip replacement) I will be able to graduate to Compositi Profiles instead – we will have to see!

The Bit

Until I started writing this, the significance of some of my tack was forgotton – Pea’s bit for example.  In August 2017 Pea and I embarked on our adventure to a new home and, after using the same bit from our original yard up until this point, there we started a bit (ha!) of bit experimentation.  I tried a hanging cheek snaffle after an exciting trip out cubbing but went back to a loose ring snaffle with a lozenge like we had before – simple and familiar.  I’d love to go to a bit clinic and see what bit would really suit Pea – has anyone been to one?

The (Other) Bridle

On our return home to our original yard in Gloucestershire a few months ago, I bought Pea a Micklem bridle (with a sparkly browband of course).  I had considered it for a long time and lots of my friends have or had them for their horses.  I am yet to discover whether the ‘kind and sympathetic’ design has any positive effect on Pea as I barely had a chance to ride her in it before I had to stop for my operation but it doesn’t appear to have done any harm!

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The Future

I dream of having a dressage saddle.  Now that I have found the discipline I want to pursue it has become the top of my fantasy shopping list and I am rather enjoying the research for it.  A dressage saddle would represent the next stage in the journey for me and Pea and you never know, we might be lucky enough to have a tack trolley to put it on!

Totally Hands Free And Tall!

Today marks FIVE days of being completely crutch free.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to maintain it so I am very proud of myself for keeping it up and the slightly scary thing is that my step count has not gone down!  I’ve walked around the farm at my old place of work and been to visit a friend’s new livery yard as well as walking to work and at my yard so I’ve tackled a range of terrain too!

It hasn’t been easy.  I have to concentrate on every single step and I feel like I am walking quite stiffly.  I have been getting tired as the days have gone on but I haven’t got to the hobbling stage so it isn’t too bad.  I had a bit of a scare today – I did a funny step on the pavement walking home from work and it felt like my hip tried to pop out..  It didn’t pop out so the muscles must be good but I’m a bit worried now – I think a call to the physio is in order to check that everything sounds ok.  I’m not sure whether I am trying to do too much.

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The other revelation this week is that common opinion suggests I am taller since my operation!  I saw friends from my old job (who I haven’t seen since my operation) and everyone thought I was taller.  I’m not sure whether that is as a result of my slightly lengthened left leg or whether it is because I am walking straighter and not sticking my bum out so much!  Either way the longer leg and the straighter walking are good things – I can’t wait to try out my leg and altered seat on Pea in a few weeks time.  Here’s a hint of my old leg wonkiness in pictorial form!

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I am seeing the physio on the 28th and I am going to ask her what she thinks of me riding again.  If she says yes I’ll do it – I feel ready at the moment but I just don’t want to risk undoing all the hard work and I am still on hip precaution restrictions.  If she says to wait until 12 weeks then so be it, I’m hoping to have many more years of riding left!  For now I’m spending more and more time looking back through pictures of me riding.  I made this collage for the two year anniversary of owning Pea – I hope that by January I’ll have plenty to add to document my third year of pony ownership!

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Nearly Normal

In one week it will have been two months since my operation which sounds like an awful long time!  I have started to realise how much I have wished away the last two months and am almost surprised to find myself on the uphill to November birthdays and Christmas (my brain still works in school terms).  Things are certainly on the up and I’m getting closer and closer to ‘normal’.

  • I’m working a lot more – now a day off is a treat every few days rather than a near everyday occurrence!  Although it would be nice not to have to work, working more is definitely making life feel more normal.
  • I am doing more walking (at least 5,000 steps a day).  I’ve moved on from using my crutch and then picking it up to do some unattended walking to leaving my crutch in the car or at home and going about my daily business ‘hands free’.  The other day I walked to see Pea, noticed some ragwort nearby so ended up doing two trips to the field in order to dig it out.  Digging was an interesting one – new leg on the fork or on the floor?  I did a bit of both!
  • I’m wearing proper clothes!  The heat wave is over and the good old English rain has arrived which has prompted me to ditch the summer dresses I have been wearing since my operation.  First, I went to leggings (I couldn’t quite face seams near my scar) but I have since rocked jeans, socks, trainers and wellies though I have had to have a bit of help with putting them on!

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Yesterday I decided to put my ‘nearly normalness’ to the test.  It wasn’t a normal day.  It was a wonderful, special day – the wedding of a very good friend of mine.  I didn’t want to be that person who made a big scene by rocking up to church with a crutch and my own cushion and I certainly didn’t want to be one of those people who sits at a table all night without dancing.  I am proud to say that I did all of the wedding stuff without using the crutch I had stashed in the corner and I danced the night away (albeit carefully) until nearly midnight.  Don’t ask me how I managed to dance without breaking my hip precautions.. the important thing is I didn’t dislocate my hip!  It was a really lovely day and I was so glad to be a part of it.

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Nearly normal is good.  Normal will be even better.  I’m so looking forward to being able to paint my toenails, shave my legs, tie my laces and most importantly, ride my pony!

Ride And Drive!

Sadly the riding I’m doing isn’t exactly the kind I have been so missing but it is something.  In Week Six – (Partial) Freedom I mentioned that my physio suggested I try cycling.  I couldn’t quite face wobbling around on a bike and inevitably ending up on the floor.  Luckily a wonderful friend has lent me a turbo trainer so my recently neglected bicycle is now installed in the living room.  With each rotation of the left pedal my new hip gives a little click feeling but it seems to be ok.  I’m going to slowly build up my cycling time to get these muscles working!

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I am also very much back driving.  The first time I drove on the roads I just went down the road to the yard (a five minute or so drive).  I felt quite panicky, there were motorbikes chasing me down the hill and then on the way home I had to do what felt like a million hill starts in slow moving traffic.  Aside from the slightly dodgy first drive, things are back to normal driving wise.  With the extra freedom that comes with independent travel also comes a bit of anxiety; I am quite nervous of walking in busy places worrying that someone might knock me over and I generally feel a bit vulnerable being alone.  I’m sure this too will pass and I will get back to being strong and independent!

I’m so desperate to ride Pea again.  The other day I climbed over a gate and thought that if I could straddle a gate, I could probably get on a pony.  I have set myself the restriction that until I can do everything myself (bring her in, turn her out and muck out her stable) I shouldn’t be riding.  On Tuesday I made a leap towards this; I got to the yard and Pea had been on a ride so she was in her stable.  I left my crutch by the stable, took her to the wash area, hosed her off and then took her out to her field.  Walking crutchless when you’ve got a pony to help at any sticky points is all fine until they spot a tasty bit of grass..  The other problem was that when I had turned her out, I had to walk back to the yard with nothing to help me.  I was fine but not particularly straight and smooth.  I also had to stop lots of times to rest!  Not sure what I would have been like if I had ridden as well but I guess I will find out when the time is right!

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Can’t Ride, Can Horse

I have always been a big believer that there is so much more to horses than riding.  For most riders there will be a time where they can’t ride for some reason whether it is surgery, an accident, horse injury, weather or something else.  Obviously over the last few weeks I have been in this position so here are a few suggestions for things to do to keep horsey when you can’t ride (which are geared towards the non walking for obvious reasons!)

  • Give your tack a birthday!  Even if you are religious about cleaning your tack after every ride, tack can always benefit from a thorough clean and condition.  Better to get anything mended when you don’t need it!
  • Sort out your grooming kit.  Clean those brushes, chuck out anything broken, replace anything you are missing.  I have had my Eqclusive HAAS brushes for a year and love them but this is the first time they have had a proper clean!
  • Groom that horse!  I can’t get her in from the field but being able to shuffle around is good enough to give Pea a good groom, particularly if I’ve got my mum to help me.  It is amazing what you can achieve with good brushes and a bit of Canter Mane & Tail – her tail has never been so silky!
  • Organise the lotions and potions.  I tend to use my car as a moving horse care cupboard but every now and again I do a seasonal sort out – if it is July you do need fly repellent and suncream, you don’t need pig oil and mud cream.  Put the winter stuff away.. or at least for a little while longer.
  • Make some lotions and potions!  Mum and I made some hoof dressing out of lard, oil and tree tree the other day.  Next on the list is some milk, fairy liquid and glycerin based tack cleaner.
  • Sort out your photos.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a bit of an ‘insta kid’.  I take ALOT of photos and sometimes they don’t get very far.  Delete the bad ones, print the good ones, put them up on the walls.  Remind yourself of what you love doing and what you want to achieve.
  • Display your rosettes.  It may be because I came to riding so late but I love a rosette – even the completing the fun ride ones!  Put them up somewhere and remind yourself of what you have to be proud of or just to add a bit of colour to a wall.
  • Go and watch someone else.  I’ve been to local riding club dressage and the Hartpury Festival of Dressage.  If you can’t ride you can still pick up some tips from others.
  • Make plans.  Work out your schedule for when you can ride again whether that is planning how you are going to build up your fitness, booking lessons or looking up your next competition.

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I’m sure before long I will have a whole new set of activities to add to this as I am getting so much closer to walking.  In fact today I walked from the field shelter to the gate in Pea’s little paddock without my crutch.  I might be ‘can’t ride’ for a few weeks more but I’m nearly at ‘can walk’!

Week Five – Owning My Own Recovery

I wasn’t going to do a five week update as all the important next steps are earmarked for the six week mark HOWEVER this blog wouldn’t accurately document my journey if I missed out the feelings of this week.

Up until this point I have been really pleased with my progress, the op went well, the wound is good, the physio is going well, everything has been getting easier and I have pretty much smashed all of the goals set out for me in the generic hip replacement document and those I have set for myself.  That is until this week.  I have been panicking about the fact that six weeks should be the point at which I can walk unaided but I can’t see how that is going to be possible.  I can speed along with two crutches or one as long as I’m not tired, I am walking 2-4km a day but when I try to take a step unaided, I just can’t keep my right leg (my good leg) off the ground for enough time to take proper steps.  I just can’t do it.

My boyfriend has reminded me that in the space of a week (last week) I went from lying on my side and not being able to lift my left leg off the other one at all to being able to lift it right up several times.  My mum said that it doesn’t matter how many weeks I am on crutches, my brain will let me walk when my body is ready.  My top visitor Rachel (from My Last Week Of Pony Freedom), who has visited me every other week since my operation, said that it is just like when you are running up a sand dune; you start off with good forward momentum and then at some point it gets hard-going but you can work through it and get to the top eventually.

All this, and reading people’s words on the Facebook support group, reminded me that this is my journey and that each hip replacement recovery is individual.  It doesn’t really matter what it says in the book, it doesn’t really matter what other people do.  I desperately want to walk next week, I even had a dream last night that I could, but if I can’t, it is not the end of the world.

At the school I used to work at we used to talk about the children owning their own behaviour (essentially taking responsibility for their own actions and not getting bogged down in what other people are doing).  I have decided to embrace my own journey and own my own recovery!

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The Four Week Itch

I can’t believe four weeks have passed since my operation!  I have had quite a busy week and I feel physically tired in the old familiar way I used to before my operation (although from a lot less activity!)

When I wrote my week three blog, I aimed to get more secure using one crutch, which I have but I am still using two for proper walking.  If I wasn’t doing very much I think I would be fine on one but I have spent a lot more time at the yard and doing other things which involve lots of standing around and walking and my leg gets tired quickly. When it is tired I can’t walk properly with one crutch, I guess it is just not time yet.

I am now able to walk up the stairs normally, just holding onto the hand rail which is amazing.  I take my crutch with me and put it on the steps my left leg goes on but that is only really because I need it when I get back onto the flat!

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The big aim this week was to get back to work.  I have done several tutoring sessions and one full day back at the shop where I work.  Everyone has been very understanding and considerate and it has all gone really well.  I did have a major brain fuzz when I was first in the shop but I soon remembered what I was doing! It isn’t going to help my tiredness but I need the money!

Another change this week has been that I have started to forget that I am on crutches.  Sometimes I find myself standing up and then realising I have to sit back down to get a crutch otherwise I can’t go anywhere!  As long as I don’t have to go very far there are some things I can do crutch free.. this morning I had a proper standing up shower (without the shower stool) and managed to get in and out without a crutch, I am also pretty good at grooming and tacking up with as little movement as possible!

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Things ARE still moving forwards but I’m feeling more and more frustrated that I still have two more weeks before things really change.  I still have to wait two more weeks until I have my next physio session and can (in theory) ditch the crutches, ditch the anti-embolism stockings, start sleeping on my side and start driving.  My parents will also be going back home to Devon in two weeks which is going to be a massive change for me.  My mum has done SO much for me and aside from the fact that she is helping, it has been so lovely to have them close by for a change and spending some time together with our patchy pets.

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I am predicting that the next two weeks are going to be quite tough, I am working a few days a week and resuming my normal tutoring schedule as well as spending more time at the yard and trying to continue to progress.  Mentally, the tricky thing is that I also feel a bit like being four weeks down the line means I should be just cracking on with life and that I shouldn’t still be all about the hip  anymore.  I don’t want to bore people, I don’t want to be a broken record but my recovery is the big thing going on right now and it is pretty all consuming.

Week Three – My Brain Has Come Home!

Yesterday marked three weeks since my operation.  This week has whizzed by but it has been a good one in terms of progress.  I am feeling much more like myself which has allowed me to get back to some more normal activities like doing yard things and reading (though that is usually strictly a holiday activity) and some slightly alternative ones like watching football!

Aim one was to get off the codeine.  I haven’t taken any codeine this week and I have coped without it just fine!  I am still experiencing pain from my wound and pain when I do my exercises (particularly in my knee which the physio said she expected) but it is nothing anywhere near like what I was experiencing before.  I am still very tired but no longer feeling like something else is in charge of my moods.  It is not too bad being tired now that I’m able to sleep on the sofa (which Mum has been photographing again!)

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My second aim for this week was to progress to using only one crutch when around the house.  It is amazing how much more I have been able to do for myself since I have been doing this, I can actually carry things from room to room which means that when I am home alone, if I want to get food or a drink I can AND I can comfortably stand and do things unsupported (including taking advantage of Mum’s top cooking!)  Groundbreaking!  On Tuesday, I took the one crutch strategy to the next level, although my aim was to only do it in safe places, I went down to one crutch while I was at the yard so that I could hose off Pea (whilst my mum held her), sweat scrape her and clean and carry my tack..  Not sure it counts as necessarily a safe place but it made me feel good.  This morning I actually picked out her feet and put her bridle on, if I’d be given pony care goals for recovery I would be winging through them this week!

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Aim number three was to become more independent which I was and am still sure is the route to feeling more like myself.  In the last week I have been left unattended outside of my house by my mum and boyfriend (my top carers) on four occasions; at the pub with my friends, at Hartpury Festival of Dressage for 15 minutes while my boyfriend went to the garage, at the yard for a while and at a music concert at the school where I used to teach.  Totally aware that these don’t sound like grand achievements BUT I’ve always been a person who does my own thing so being able to do some normal activities was exactly what I needed.

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This week’s schedule of activities has thrown up a lot of feelings for me.  Going to the Hartpury Festival of Dressage gave me a massive boost of ambition.  I have always been an average person, average at school, average at uni, a very average swimmer, an average waterpolo player and, lets be honest, an under average rider!  I don’t have the benefit of riding all my life, nor have I had weekly lessons for all of the four years I have ridden and, awesome and bombproof as she is, Pea isn’t exactly a push button schoolmistress.  I have struggled with my confidence for nearly the whole time I have ridden (as I said in Riding – How It All Started) and if you add that to the fact my left leg basically did nothing it should have done and threw the rest of me out..  I have always been pretty hopeless.  Back in the day I wanted to do everything, showjumping, cross country, the lot.  I can’t put my finger on the point at which I decided that actually I like hacking around and I want to do dressage.  I’m not fussed about jumping, I know what I want.  I’m not saying I’m suddenly going to become the next Charlotte Dujardin but the combination of feeling like my leg might work in the future and watching people at the top of their game made me excited.  I keep watching this video of my last lesson which I edited together on one of my down days and thinking of all the ways I can improve on it!

Going back to the school where I taught for four years was another biggie.  A year ago I was preparing to move house, move yards, move to a new and exciting job.  Some of the parents whose children I used to teach weren’t aware of the roller coaster that I have been on for the last nine months and it is a bit of a weird one to explain.  Also apparently when you are on crutches and are wearing knee length hospital socks you are not meant to answer the question

‘How are you?’

or

‘Are you ok?’

with

‘I’m fine!’

I have no regrets about the journey I have been on, I wish that I hadn’t had to leave the job that I so enjoyed but moving back to the place I know and the place Pea is sorted was definitely the right decision.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about the past this week.  I’ve also done a lot of thinking about the future but very very short term! The aims for this week are to get more secure on one crutch outside of the house as well as in it, to develop my stair climbing and to get back to work!!  I had physio yesterday and I’ve got some more strengthening exercises to do, some of my muscles are very tight and overworking whilst others aren’t doing enough so I need to try to change that.  Walking on one crutch and stepping up the stairs in different ways is going to help.  I was initially told to do the stairs good leg up first going up and bad leg down first going down but the physio has told me to switch it up and I’m pretty sure with the help of the banister I’m going to be stair walking pretty normally by four week mark.  Getting back to work will help that as the shop I work in has some very steep steps!  I’m a bit worried about going back as I’m still sleeping in the day most days at the moment but unless somebody is going to hand me a winning lottery ticket, I need to do it!

 

Thank You NHS!

Today is the 70th birthday of the NHS and I don’t feel I can let it pass without some acknowledgement for how the NHS has helped me.  I’m not here to get political (I don’t know enough to do that) I’m here to show my appreciation.

Whilst on the waiting list for my hip replacement I looked into the costs of private surgery which are just not realistic for normal people.  I feel so lucky to be living in a country with the opportunity to have surgery on the NHS.

The surgery I had as a child was never going to make my leg perfect, or give me the same physical abilities and opportunities as my peers but I was told that it was going to make it better than it would have been without the surgery.  Similarly, I could have struggled on without having the hip replacement but I know that once I have recovered, my life will be so much better for it.  I actually can’t imagine how frustrating my life would have been if these opportunities hadn’t been offered to me on the NHS.

Quite aside from me, even just in my closest family, my mum had four children under NHS care, my sister is an NHS midwife, my nephew was born under NHS care, we’ve had vaccinations and (some of us) physiotherapy and cervical and breast screenings on the NHS.  None of these things are insignificant.  If it wasn’t for the NHS care my dad received when he was rushed to hospital critically ill nearly two years ago, he wouldn’t have made our family Christmas walk that year (pictured below) and he certainly wouldn’t have made his birthday which we celebrated on Tuesday.  As well as that, I can’t even count the many other friends and family who have been well served by the NHS due to motorbike accidents, heart conditions, riding accidents, cancer and so much more.

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Everyone knows that the NHS are stretched.  Even in the beautiful new facility at Southmead it was clear that though their wonderful staff were giving all they could, each body was required to do the equivalent work of many.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t complain.  I couldn’t complain!  We all owe a lot to those people – I know I couldn’t do their jobs!

On the radio the other day they were talking to a 93 year old man who still has the same left hip that the NHS gave him 70 years ago.  If mine lasts even half that long I will be over the moon!  Even if it doesn’t, I’ve got lots to thank the NHS for.

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