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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 May 19; 334(7602): 1058.
PMCID: PMC1871799
Personal Views

Life, but not as I knew it

Jed Rowe, consultant geriatrician, Moseley Hall Hospital

The day was mine. Not going to work meant I could miss the battle of the bathrooms. With time I can manage without help, I told my wife. So with a quiet house I laid out my clothes and meandered down to the shower.

Firstly, the shampoo. The only bottle I can squeeze had disappeared, probably into my son's overnight bag. I took my wife's expensive stuff into the living room, lay on the couch, bit the bottle, and managed to get some of the gloop on to my head, the sofa, and under my arms. A sticky stride to the shower ensued and a good elbow turned on a scalding stream. The heat control was too stiff to turn, so tripping, dripping to the garage, naked with goose pimples, and feet gently marinading in Duckhams, I secured some pincers.

Turning the dial down from poaching temperature I noticed water rising over the tray and wondered if anyone else knew of the existence of a shower trap. Bending down risks a fall and a steadying outstretched arm has given way before with a resulting black eye. But by wedging my head in the corner of the cubicle I could squat down and prise up the top plate with the thin end of a pincer handle. The spray washed most of the detergent away. Moist armpits may signify adequate hydration but sticky axillae mean buggered arms.

Back to the bedroom where rolling on a strategically placed towel and a drunken dance for a little air drying were an essential prerequisite for tunnelling into clothes. Unfortunately my son had borrowed my jogging pants and tied the waistband drawstring far tighter than my sagging midriff could accommodate. Teeth and tugging released the constriction and the friction of the bed pulled them above my waist as I slithered over the side. Dressed but grounded.

Struggling up and forcing my feet into loosely tied trainers just as my children did before they could manage laces, I was almost set up for the day. Just the medication. A bite into the blister foil pack of riluzole netted a smear of tongue numbing powder. A sour taste before returning to bed to recover. Some colleagues arrived at lunchtime bringing a meal and messages from friends, workmates, and patients. They brought hope and warmth, and I don't think it was emotionalism that reduced me to tears.

Later as I sat watching a courting pair of long-tailed tits fluttering round the bird feeders in the afternoon sun I had time for reflection. My job was my life and my passion. The NHS and the Bevan principles were items of faith. But now I can turn off my mobile phone and ignore modernising medical careers. I don't have to make decisions based on cursory inspection and inadequate information within exigencies of service. My problems are now practical and mostly soluble. Thirty years of superannuation has bought financial security. It has been easier to access care than it ever was to organise it. I am left with a terrible realisation. Just now I am happier living with motor neurone disease than I was working as a consultant in the NHS.

I took my wife's expensive shampoo into the living room, lay on the couch, bit the bottle, and managed to get some of the gloop on to my head, the sofa, and under my arms

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