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WHAT’S BUGGING ME?

If I told you I led a life completely void of alcohol, caffeine, dairy, refined sugar, sea salt, spicy, fried or fatty food, you may think I was a complete health food fanatic or one of those women who strive to achieve a Victoria Beckham style body by eating a diet consisting only of lettuce leaves and sesame seeds, washed down with a humble glass of diluted cider vinegar.

If I then told you that given the choice between a slice of gooey chocolate cheesecake or an over ripe banana, a couple of medjool dates and a heaped teaspoon of raw cacao powder, all gloriously whizzed up in a Nutri Bullet, I would choose the latter every time, you may begin to think I was on a weight loss mission or practising some form of self-denial.  The truth is, it is none of the above and is instead a simple desire to heal myself…  You see, something happened to me at the end of May this year, completely out of the blue.  I felt symptoms I’d never felt before – a tight, sharp, stabbing pain across the top of my stomach.  Far more intense than simple indigestion, and so uncomfortable I could not move.  Crippled with pain, I tried to stand up to alleviate the sharp, burning stitch I was feeling, only to then end up crawling around the lounge floor in agony.  My two sons suggested I have a lie down and a glass of water, but it wasn’t until my concerned husband suggested I call NHS Direct, I realised something was not at all right.

An hour later, after a conversation with a doctor who seemed highly knowledgeable about all digestive complaints and disorders, I was diagnosed with Gastritis!  I had to look it up!! So that’s what this horrible stomach pain was.  Semi relieved to know that I wasn’t dying or about to succumb to something hideous like the Noro virus, I went to bed on two extra strength Gaviscon, my stomach pain beginning to ease if I lay on my left side.  In the morning I took the advice of the NHS Direct doctor and went and saw my local GP to get a face to face confirmation of my diagnosis.  She palpated my stomach, reassured me there were no strange lumps or bumps to worry about, further diagnosed gastritis (given my symptoms which were sharp pain in upper left side of stomach, below ribcage and slight acid reflux in my throat) and advised me to eat a ‘bland diet’ and cut out alcohol, caffeine and spice and try to change my current lifestyle a little. She also prescribed me with a drug called Omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor which is used to treat symptoms of reflux and gastritis, both of which are caused by excess stomach acid.  Over time this acid then starts to burn away the protective mucous lining of the stomach, causing pain and discomfort.  I’ve since read that there are many reasons for the body to produce too much acid, stress being one of them and, in my case, I believe my gastritis came about after many months of feeling very stressed.  A combination of work stress, family stress and having two very lively young Labradors led to a build-up of tension and this tension then led to feelings of being completely overwhelmed, anxious and totally frazzled!  As a Type ‘A’ personality I just wanted everything to be perfect.  I desperately wanted to finish writing my novel and to resurrect my career as a writer (I was a successful journalist in London before I had my kids), but at the same time I struggled to juggle this with a super busy family life, with two young sons, two young dogs, a large house and an acre-sized garden which I really struggle to keep weed free and leaf free (depending on the season!), plus a husband who travels a lot on business and is often away.  How well do others cope with life’s stresses I wonder?  I’m well aware that everyone’s stress thresholds are different.

So, based on what I believed to be triggers for my gastritis, I set about healing myself and reversing the damage the stress induced acid had done to my digestive system.  I decided to completely avoid alcohol, caffeinated tea, any form of coffee, all spices, refined sugar, refined sea salt and some dairy products (I instead ate either low fat or zero fat dairy products).  All of which actually ‘hurt’ my stomach and I began to find even the zero fat dairy gave me IBS-like symptoms (upset stomach and gripe-y stomach pain).  And, most importantly I actively looked into ways of seriously reducing my stress levels.

I’m now five months down the line and I can’t say it’s been easy as sometimes it’s been downright horrible – learning through ‘trial & error’ just what my stomach can take and what it really can’t take (at the moment).  It’s a pain that I can’t drink a alcohol as I often feel a lovely big glass of red wine might just help me chill out a bit more, especially on a Friday and Saturday night! And many a time I’ve stood in the supermarket aisles, close to tears because I just couldn’t figure out what on earth to eat to make me feel better…  But, I believe I’m now half way there thanks to the antacid meds, (I’ve now switched to Lanzoprazole as it’s more effective), joining a weekly Mindfulness class (to address the stress!),  a ‘clean eating’ diet regime that’s ‘almost-but-not-quite’ Vegan in approach (lots of healing plant-based foods), lean meat, fish and nuts and a few pulses…oh and I’ve discovered the delights (and health benefits) of  raw cacao, which I add to my daily fruit and veg smoothies.   Deliciously Ella recipes have been my life savers!! It’s true to say that there’s an element of this ‘journey’ that’s actually felt like fun – like discovering all the wonderful, rainbow coloured superfoods out there, such as  sweet potatoes baked in their jackets, avocados in ‘raw cacao’ chocolate mousses, frozen blueberries in smoothies, medjool dates used in baking instead of refined sugar, pure homemade cashew nut butter on toast, frozen banana ice cream, hot chocolates made from almond milk, cacao powder and date syrup and Maca powder (ultra-healthy and tastes like caramel) in banana milkshakes!  All of this is not only delicious but has also been ok for my stomach, as long as I don’t over-dose on the fruit and veg smoothies. I’ve now limited myself to just one a day now, as I was finding any more than that would upset my stomach!  And I do have to be careful with the dates as one too many can cause or exacerbate the acid reflux. But I’m getting there and the incidences of gastritis pain aren’t so regular now, (depending on what I eat as well as my stress levels) and the same goes for the acid reflux.  But I have not yet returned to the diet I had before my digestive disorder – I’ve heard gastritis can last a long time!

I’ve decided to write a regular blog, partly because it feels quite therapeutic but also because I’m keen to help others with the same symptoms, as I feel there’s so little advice out there for gastritis sufferers, other than to change your diet and lifestyle…which, in my experience is absolutely true but sometimes that in itself can be somewhat baffling (not to mention stressful!), as it can be difficult to know where to start?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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JASPER THE HARP SEAL

Jasper’s epic journey is almost complete and I’m really delighted to say that my travelling Harp Seal, is now very close to arriving back home in the snowy Svalbard, after clocking up many miles.

It’s been a long journey and Jasper is exhausted, but exhilarated, not to mention older and wiser than he was when he set off two years ago, when I began writing this novel.  Not only has this been a wonderful  journey of discovery for Jasper, but it’s also been a real learning curve for me as an author too. I now know so much about the marine animals of our world.

Writing for children has been terrific fun, but it’s not been a ‘piece of cake’…more the literary equivalent of producing a bake for Great British Bake Off, you just have to get it right and sticking with it and having the courage, determination and will power to finish has been like running a marathon!  Honestly, I kid you not…  I am pleased to say I can now see the finish line and I’m pretty proud of myself.  This is the first of my two novels that I have now ‘almost’ completed and I can’t tell you how immensely satisfying that feels.

Jasper’s Big Adventures is a story I’ve had in the back of my mind for about the last ten years and one which I’ve felt compelled to write, before my own kids are too old to enjoy it! In fact my children were my inspiration and the reason I have written this novel.  When my elder son, Jonathan, (now 12), was a toddler, we bought him a toy Harp Seal after a fun day out at Plymouth Aquarium.  The fluffy seal , who we named Jasper, quickly became Jonathan’s favourite soft toy and he was never without him at bedtime.   In our house at that time, Jonathan had a huge map of the world on his bedroom wall which was illustrated with animals from around the world.  I would make up stories at bedtime about the many different animals and Jonathan and his little brother, Jude, would adore listening to them.  That’s where my idea to write Jasper’s Big Adventures came from, that and the fact my husband travels around the world on business a lot.  Together the boys and I would point to where Daddy was in the world and I would make up a story about the country and the animals indigenous to it.   And the rest , as they say, is history.  I now have a book which I hope  other children will enjoy too, a story which will inspire them as well as educate them about the many weird and wonderful creatures of our beautiful planet.

KEEP MENINGITIS AT THE FRONT OF YOUR MIND

THE DAY WE HELPED SAVE OUR SON’S LIFE.

I am writing this blog partly because it’s helping me to get things off my chest, but mostly because I want to pass on my knowledge and experience of the dangers of bacterial Meningitis.  My hope is that by reading this blog, ‘Keep Meningitis at the front of your mind’ (I have called it this as we should all be vigilant and aware of the symptoms), other parents and carers of young children will be able to recognise the symptoms of Meningitis and Septicaemia and how quickly it can progress.  It may just help someone else save their child’s life.   I hope by telling my story, it will help to dispel some of the myths about Meningitis.

When our five year old son, Jude, woke my husband and I at 2am on Friday 18th October complaining of a headache, little did we know that in a matter of hours it would turn into something life-threatening.  Believing at the time that it was a simple dehydration headache, I did what every parent would do – I gave my son a drink of water and some Junior Nurofen.

He went back to bed and then fell asleep for another four and a half hours, before waking us again at about 6.45am again complaining of a headache and rubbing his forehead.  I gave him some more water and another dose of Junior Nurofen.  After finishing his drink, he was laughing and joking with his big brother who by this time had also woken and had come through to our room.  All seemed fine.  Jude just had a bit of a headache.

About half an hour later Jude was sick, not much.  I just assumed it was a stomach bug (there had been one going round at school) and I decided not to send him into school that day.  I took his temperature, it was normal, within the 37c range.  I then tucked him up into bed and phoned the school to say he would not be in.  Not long after that he got up and staggered into the bathroom where he was a little bit sick again.  He said he felt a little bit dizzy and was unsteady on his legs, so I helped him back in to bed.  He complained that his headache was worse and so I gave him a few more sips of water to drink.  Half an hour later, he was sick again, violently this time.  But it was the colour of the vomit that alarmed me – bright yellow, watery bile.  He appeared to be bringing up the water I was giving him.  In my ten years experience as a mum, I had never seen anything quite like it.

My first thought was that perhaps he was reacting badly to the Nurofen so, a little later when it was safe to, I gave him some Calpol SixPlus (it was the only other alternative I had in our medicine cupboard).  He threw this up almost immediately, along with the water I’d given him – still the same yellow, watery bile and almost odourless.  It just didn’t seem right and I began to worry and contemplated phoning the G.P.  After Jude had been sick about four or five times in a very short space of time, I texted my husband who was now at work and told him that it just didn’t seem right – the frequency of the sickness bouts and the colour.  The thing that sprung to my mind was that perhaps he was suffering from a very severe migraine, although he rarely suffers from headaches usually.  My husband agreed it sounded serious and asked if I’d called the doctor…I said I was about to!

I called our surgery and explained that Jude had been repeatedly sick and had a severe headache but NO HIGH TEMPERATURE.  They said the duty doctor would call me back in a few minutes.  As I went to put the phone back in our bedroom, I heard Jude calling me – he asked me to “turn the light off on the landing mummy, it’s really hurting my eyes!”

My heart skipped a beat and I immediately rushed in and lifted his pyjama top up to check for a Meningitis rash on his torso.  His skin was fine, I felt relieved.  I sat on his bed, stroking his forehead, this must just be a bad migraine, surely?  But somewhere, deep in the back of my mind an alarm bell had started ringing…could this be MENINGITIS??  The sensitivity to light, the bad headache, the sickness but surely he’d have a raging temperature wouldn’t he and besides, I’d had both my boys vaccinated for Men C and Hib as babies.  My mind was racing with any number of possibilities and then the phone rang.  It was the duty doctor. I explained Jude’s symptoms to him, which as of 11am were:

A very bad headache, repeatedly sick, a normal temperature but a DISLIKE OF BRIGHT LIGHT.

He asked me to bring Jude down to the surgery to see him immediately, (thank God he did!), as he said he wanted to “rule out Meningitis.”  I quickly dressed Jude and he and I then raced out of the door and into the car bound for our surgery about 6 miles away.  By this time it was about 11.30am.

He threw up again in to a bag in the surgery car park when we arrived.  I quickly rushed him inside, notified the receptionist that we had arrived and we were asked to take a seat.  When I sat Jude down I immediately noticed that his LEFT EAR HAD TURNED PURPLE!!!!  I knew then that this was serious and my GUT INSTINCT told me it had to be MENINGITIS.  The duty doctor performed some tests on him and then sought a second opinion from another G.P who specialised in Paediatric health.  She initially thought the rash was a bruise and asked me if he’s knocked his ear.  I told her he hadn’t.  The two doctors then proceeded to type up a referral letter admitting Jude to hospital.  They told me they suspected it was Meningitis but that they would not give him any antibiotics at this stage so as not to alter any later tests which may be performed once he’d reached the hospital.  Why did the Paediatric doctor believe at first that it was a bruise – had she never seen Meningitis manifest itself in this way I wonder??  I have since leant that a Meningitis rash can appear ABSOLUTELY ANYWHERE ON THE BODY AND NOT JUST ON THE TORSO WHERE EVERYBODY THINKS and it typically resembles a PURPLE SPECKLY BRUISE.

Jude and I then left the surgery at about 12.15pm to head for the Children’s A&E Department at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.  We met up with my husband on route.  Jude was seen by a triage team and we were then ushered into a private treatment room and placed in the care of a wonderful doctor.  She checked him over, notified his symptoms and wired him up to a heart monitoring machine.  Our little chap lay there helplessly, covered in wires.

I remember the doctor’s words clearly, “I don’t know exactly what I’m treating at this stage, but I’m going to give him some very strong antibiotics.”   The fact that Jude had a blinding headache, photophobia (aversion to light) and a “non-blanching” rash in his ear (non-blanching means that it does not disappear with pressure), made her fairly certain that it was Meningitis, but she herself made the comment that she had never seen the Meningitis rash appear in the ear before and his lack of a high temperature and fever was unusual.

Jude’s hands, lower legs and feet then went very cold and I pointed out that his toes had gone slightly grey.  He then started to develop a temperature.

From his knees down to his toes, Jude’s body felt icy cold, his face appeared pale but his temperature  had begun to soar and his heart rate had gone up.  His neck had also become very stiff and painful to move.  The doctor attempted to fit a cannula in his arm to administer the antibiotics, but this proved impossible as he had now become so dehydrated from the sickness.  She immediately hooked him up to a drip – more wires – and for the next 1 hour and 40 minutes or so, his little body was slowly but surely rehydrated again. He never once lost consciousness and despite being covered in restrictive wires, was able to lift his hand to wave at us…just to let us know he was still there…still with us.   By this stage the doctor had been called away to deal with Public Health England to organise for myself, my husband and our elder son to receive antibiotics to give us some degree of protection in case we had become infected.  We were told that this would not protect us from contracting Meningitis but would simply stop the bacteria from spreading if we had have become infected.  We had not been infected, although this thought had been furthest from my mind at the time.

Once rehydrated and at about 3.30pm, Jude started to receive life-saving antibiotics.  Very quickly after this, his extremities started to warm up again and become pink in colour once more.  By this stage, the HDU Consultant, Senior Registrars and a Paediatric Consultant from the Children’s Hospital were swarming around Jude like bees.  This was serious.

As Jude started to respond to the antibiotics, he was moved to HDU (the High Dependency Unit), where he spent Friday night being monitored at every 1/2 hour.  It was truly heart-breaking to see our precious little boy crying out in pain.  All we could do was stroke his forehead, hold his hand and reassure him that we were there for him and that we loved him.  We never left his side.  We felt numb and we couldn’t cry.  We had to be strong for him.  It was the longest and most terrifying night of our lives.  Neither us nor the medical staff really knew at this point what the prognosis would be.

By dawn he had made a significant improvement and by mid-morning he complained that he felt hungry and wanted some toast!!!  The nurses advised liquids only at this stage, so we gave him some diluted lemon squash through a straw – his head and neck were still too painful to move.  By early afternoon, he had made such good progress that the doctors decided he should come out of HDU and be transferred to a private, isolated room on the ward where we were able to stay with him.

Now comfortable and responding well to the antibiotics, Jude continued to be monitored very regularly. He was still attached to a heart monitoring machine and continued to receive the powerful antibiotics intravenously every 24 hours.  Neurological checks were performed regularly throughout the day and night.  These were to check brain function, cognitive skills, memory and reflexes.  All were fine.

Jude remained in the Children’s Hospital for the next three nights and was finally discharged on the evening of Tuesday 22nd October, after having spent four nights and five days in hospital being treated for bacterial Meningitis and Septacaemia.  He continued to receive his antibiotics intravenously via a Community Nurse who came to our home until 31st October.

I strongly believe that by acting as quickly as I did on that Friday morning, we have been lucky enough to have a child who has come through this terrible ordeal completely unscathed and with no ill effects.  We are now able to get on with life with a happy, fit, healthy and exuberant five year old once more.

HERE ARE SOME FACTS I DIDN’T KNOW:

Meningitis can be viral or bacterial

There are as many as 12-15 different strains of Meningitis

If you have your child vaccinated, they can still contract Meningitis

The Meningitis rash can appear anywhere on the body and is often one of the last symptoms to appear

Meningitis can kill within hours if not treated quickly

DID YOU KNOW?

According to Meningitis Now, up to 34 million adults in the U.K are risking death by believing that the main symptom of Meningitis is a rash.  A further 5.3 million adults in the U.K cannot name a single symptom of Meningitis.  Isn’t that shocking?!

TOGETHER, LET’S RAISE AWARENESS!

Club 40!

Well, March 15th is now drawing to a close but what a WONDERFUL day I’ve had!  Today has felt like Christmas, my 18th and my 21st birthdays…infact, all my birthdays rolled into one!!!!

I’ve enjoyed waking up to presents and cards at dawn with my hubby and sons. The boys insisted on opening my cards and presents for me this year, as clearly in their eyes, I’m now too old to do this for myself!  I’ve also enjoyed a wonderful celebratory birthday lunch, with my parents and husband, in the restaurant at the beautiful Chewton Glen Hotel in The New Forest – a lovely birthday present from my parents.  The sun shone (where we were at least!) and I had my photo taken as I stood in the March sunshine amongst a spectacular carpet of golden daffodils (my birthday flowers!) in the gardens at The Chewton Glen.

Birthday tea with the family was lovely – cupcakes, balloons, spring flowers…champagne!

Today has been the perfect day.

I now look forward to my three celebratory parties – tomorrow, Saturday evening and on the 24th!!

I go to bed a very happy (not so old) lady indeed!!

FORTY IS DEFINATELY FABULOUS!

Lol,

Louise

‘Tis the night before my 40th!

Well, it’s finally here, the eve of my 40th birthday!  As I write I’m sitting, (glass in hand), surrounded by birthday balloons blown up by my sons, bunting and spring flowers…lovely!  AND how do I feel about turning the BIG 40 tomorrow?

I feel remarkably fine, cool, calm, collected… I’m kissing goodbye to my Thirties… they’ve been fun…. An exciting decade in which, most importantly I became a mum (twice), my hubby and I bought our first house and I began to write my novel and my childrens’ book.

I’ve also been on an exciting, off-road experience driving in a Jeep around the entire island of Barbados, travelled in an RV through The Canadian Rockies (through a snow blizzard!), where I saw the cutest black bear cubs, enjoyed the thrill of Orlando’s Disney World, dined al fresco on Miami’s Ocean Drive, enjoyed Boston’s famous Duck Tour on the Charles River, soaked up the Umbrian sun in Assissi, toured The Vatican in Rome and watched the sun set over the Adriatic in Dubrovnik….

What will the next decade have in store?  I’ll tell you when I’m 50!

Lol,

Louise