Madiba superhero. Nothing more to say.
Its 6am and a storm is rampaging around the hillside as I type this. It’s the first of the severe winter gales, lightning is rollocking across the Firth and a children’s very large trampoline has just sailed by heading east (these are westerly gales). I’m tempted to dash out and tie it to a fence but given the gusts we’re having I suspect it will simply pull the fence down, and anyway I have bits of our own stuff to secure.
When I looked out I noticed a sheet of the plastic ‘glass’ from our cheap greenhouse has escaped and was wedged in a tree, and the whole door had gone off somewhere. I’ve ventured out picking up various bits and sticking them back in to prevent any more damage – once the wind gets an ‘in’ to these flimsy structures it just blows them apart. (I found the door by the light of the headtorch, it was trying to escape into a neighbour’s garden. The grass is obviously greener over there.)
So, to put this all into perspective as my fingers warm up again, how about thinking about holidays…….
Destination? Arctic Circle.
What kit is needed: cheap tent, fluffy down sleeping bag (RAB of course), and a Honda C90.
Oh yes, just to make it interesting it’ll be done in the winter.
That modest Union Jack is a nice touch too.
Wrap your fingers round a cup of tea whilst you watch this………
In an interesting exchange with Joerg Colburg published on Conscientious in 2009 Anderson stated:
Clearly Anderson has had a change of heart as it’s just been announced he will be on the jury of this years World Press Awards.
Fellow Magnum photographer Peter Van Agtmael argues that ‘with contests like World Press Photo influence is best achieved from inside.’
… but I do know I love it.
It’s raining poems in London.
Wish it would happen in Brum.
One thing’s for sure, Ethiopia is a lot more than its cracked up to be.
Please don’t believe me, watch and share this very short uplifting duckrabbit film (more info below):
Strictly Beza was made by duckrabbit for the wonderful people at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.
A special thanks to their media manager Ann Noon who co-directed this film with me and Rajib Islam.
For those who want to know the technicals it was shot over two half days on a Sony FS-700 for the slo-mo and on a Sony A99 for most of the video.
It takes seconds to save a life. Precious ticking passing seconds.
When I was taken by the Police to hospital, they gently handed me over to hospital staff. Then I was taken into a small room and offered tea, to soften the blow of the bad news they had to tell me. Then Melanie’s possessions were brought in, in a simple brown envelope. Amongst the few items removed from her was her watch, which I had bought for her only recently. The hands still gently sweeping an arc around the face. I sat and stared at it, trying to take in the enormity of what had just happened.
Now, with the passage of time, about three weeks to be wildly imprecise, I’ve been able to talk to some of the various people involved in Melanie’s ‘rescue’ and now realize just how important each few seconds of their individual involvement has been. And what their total effort amounts to.
As Melanie lay on the tarmac, unconscious, facing skywards, and the second hand swept around her watch, many hands passed across her face too….
The woman who was with her, only a few seconds behind as they both ran through the rain to an outbuilding, didn’t stop to ponder, but quickly reached over Melanie’s crumpled body and banged desperately on a window to summon help then phoned 999.
Melanie was unconscious but breathing at that point. Her colleagues rushed outside in response to the banging, one immediately ran across the street to the Fire Station, the other dropped to his knees and established Melanie was still breathing. But then she suddenly stopped so he immediately started CPR and vigorously fought to oxygenate her. He did not hesitate either, so a few more seconds were saved.
His colleague meanwhile had found all the fire personnel outside having just completed a morning exercise, the team alert and fully clad in all their kit. He did not have to try to establish where the entry door was, nor have to shout to try to alert the firemen: they were there, only 75 meters away, ready to respond. They grabbed breathing kit and ran, a firewoman and two firemen sprinting desperately, and began urgent oxygenation and CPR, almost cracking Melanie’s ribs in the process. Because they were there and ready a few more seconds were saved.
The time was around 11.30 maybe a little later, but as it was just before the lunchtime rush-hour, the roads were clear and the ambulance arrived in minutes. The ambulance staff ‘shocked’ her to restart her heart. No response. Three attempts were made, the last managing to elicit a weak and scrambled rhythm. A frantic blue-light dash back to ICU. Several more seconds saved on the still quiet road.
She was immediately connected to life support equipment, sedation, and a ‘chiller’ to reduce body temperature and hopefully reduce brain swelling as a consequence of the lack of oxygen.
Melanie’s quick-witted colleagues had fought to pass the baton of time to the fire staff, who passed it on to the ambulance staff, who handed it over to the critical care team.
Seconds. Just a few, here and there, saved. You’d normally not notice them. They’d fly past unremarked upon. But their total accumulation on that day? They amount to a life, saved.
Melanie has some short-term memory issues, will have to re-learn to write, but everything else so far seems intact. She is very very lucky. She has said that a priority is to visit and personally thank all the folk involved in giving her the second chance that very few of us will enjoy. And to help ease her back into her real life our son’s Primary School, who have been hugely supportive to us, have invited her to come in and give a talk to the Primary children on her specialist subject area, paleoecology, so they are all looking forwards to a morning of microscopes, pollen, fossils and dinsosaurs. Melanie has a gift for making the past come alive, and underlining its importance in shaping how we are today. How appropriate.
No cause for this episode has been found despite exhaustive tests. As a precaution she has been fitted with a small subcutaneous defib unit that will monitor her heart and if she needs a ‘jump start’ it will kick in and take over. It can be ‘interrogated’ via wireless and information about her daily heart rhythm uploaded to a server via a separate box connected to the ‘net, which can alert the hospital to abnormal activity. Her internal device can also ‘buzz’ her to alert her that a slight heart abnormality has occurred so she may contact the hospital for assistance.
With this fitted her life should return to something close to normal. Time alone will tell. But she has it now to find out, time.
Her bedside is littered with photos sent by her colleagues as I’d suggested, and they have proved hugely valuable in jogging her memory, and in confirming for the nursing staff that her memories of her ‘past life’ are correct. Only simple photographs, but their unassuming ‘stories’ held the promise of recollection. There is power in an image that we can only guess at, they gave Melanie a glimpse of where she needed to go, and allowed her anxious colleagues to feel empowered as contributors to her recovery. This event has made me reappraise (yet again) this ‘craft’ we too often take for granted, and what it can enable us to do.
Melanie was able to sit up in her bed yesterday and put her arms around one of her colleagues portrayed in those pictures, one of the first few on the scene whose prompt actions in administering CPR as she lay on the ground probably saved her from either serious and irrecoverable brain damage, or possibly death. She was able to hug him tightly.
“What can I say….” she said softly, emotionally “….what can I say……just…..thank you.”
Yes. Now, it ‘s time. It’s Friday. It’s nearly 6 o’clock, you’ve finished work. (Haven’t you?) No matter…
Listen to this..sublime. Your life will improve. Hey, don’t thank me. It’s my job.
I knelt on the hill, both arms wrapped around William (aged 5). Tears streamed down his small face and his little shoulders bobbed up and down in the unmistakable rhythm of sorrow. The ‘hill’ is the main street in our village, down which all the parents on the school run drive, walk, cycle, and if you’re late like me, try to run.
Several cars passed, each driver a witness to this scene of obvious distress. My own face, concerned and trying hard to be reassuring to my son, is dark eyed after a succession of sleepless nights. I caught the eye of a few drivers, some averted theirs, others pursed their lips in sympathy. Eventually we arrived in the playground, a tangled mess of children, each one desperately embracing freedom before the morning bell signifies the start of school.
Numerous parents milled around, many averting their gaze as I arrive. Normally I get spoken to by quite a few. But living in a small community, with my partner in the Intensive Care Unit with some brain damage and all the life-support kit kept close by her bed, its understandable that some feel uncomfortable engaging in conversation with me in case they upset me. The bell rings and all the children form in their lines. William is reluctant to go in and, crying, clings to my leg. His line moves and all the P1′s file in, leaving us behind. I’m left stranded, the anchor of a distressed child pinning me in full view of all the other children, and their parents.
It’s not easy. Decidedly not easy. I waddle forwards to meet the teacher who is intent on rescuing us both. William is ‘taken’ from me, his little face pleading with me to not let go. He disappears inside, the marks from the pressure of his fingers on my hand still visible as I walk away hesitantly from the door.
I put a brave face on and wander back to the fence and slump, then sigh.
I’m only there a moment and a concerned voice intrudes: “Are you ok John, is William ok? I saw you on the hill, he looked distraught. Is everything……….alright? Any improvement with your partner?”
“Yes she’s progressing well. Not out of danger yet, but awake, talking, moving all her limbs, some memory loss but only the short-term stuff, long term seems reasonably intact, and the doctors are amazed at her recovery. She’s been having some fits, but the medication is being tweaked to try to control that. And there are some motor issues, her coordination is a bit haphazard, but that may improve in the next few days – it’s all a waiting game at present, but each days sees remarkable progress. Problem is that they cannot establish a cause of this, there’s no apparent heart problem so no heart attack, and no sign of any catastrophic brain injury like a blood clot or aneurysm, and the current brain injury is simply a consequence of oxygen starvation. All a bit of a mystery…..” I tail off into silence again.
“Is Melanie aware of what’s happened?”
“Oh yes! She’s been told several times, although forgets, but each day remembers more of what we’ve told her. She’s been quizzing each of the family to see if our stories all match in case there’s something awful being concealed from her – she’s a professional researcher, that’s what she does so that’s a good sign! But her friends and work colleagues have been brilliant and instead of get-well cards and flowers (which are not allowed in critical care anyway) I asked them to take a photo of themselves, smiling and happy and to put a message on the back, and something about who they are and what they do, and their connection to Melanie.
The response has been overwhelming, pictures are flooding in from across the country and the academic network and her room is now awash with photos of smiling faces, personal messages and jokes and all sorts of stuff. It’s helped the nurses gain a fuller picture of who she is, what she does, and provides a focus for discussion and fixed points of reference against which they can assess Melanie’s brain functions and recollection. It’s not every brain injury patient who get excited over a picture of a massive salmon! But Melanie’s been managing a wild salmon project on a remote river over on the west coast for several years and the sender knew this particular image would make her smile. It did! They’re only simple photographs but they are a window into her world, and will be hugely valuable in aiding her recovery, socially and intellectually. When I tipped the first pile out on her bed her face lit up and she was quite emotional remarking softly “ALL these are for me? They are all thinking about ME….?” and all I could say was ‘Yes, they are’.”
Then, a short silence. Children in their lines laughing. A deep sigh as emotion sneaked up on me again………….
“….but on the hill…all the tears…no…no that was all about William’s nana, Melanie’s mum. Nana was supposed to be walking down with us to school, William gets on really well with his grandparents, but when we opened the door to leave, Melanie’s collie dog shot out and ran off after a cat and disappeared. Nana had to race off after it and we’d to leave without her, much to William’s dismay. We set off for school and he expected her to catch up but despite him dithering and looking back she didn’t show and he got more and more anxious. When he realized she’d not be coming he just dissolved, distraught. And that was us stranded. With both of us in tears………
…………so thanks for talking to me, it wasn’t what it seemed!
……you know I’ve been anxious about that, that some parents do find this difficult, and don’t want to upset me by ‘intruding’, but I was afraid that it would affect William, that he’d detect their ‘distance’ and wonder about it. You know, it’s bloody hard just now for everyone….but well…..we all need to talk about these things……….thanks very much……….really, I appreciate it, just talking…….”
…………..and she said nothing more, simply gave me a warm and very welcome hug. One not filled with sadness, simply relief.
The difference, trust me, is noticeable.
Sometimes the fog of sorrow obscures everything, even the heartening truth.
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