The Lockdown Diaries 12: The Absence Of An Umbrella


Doctors and nurses have no time to mess about; you listen carefully, you obey and if complications ensue it’s probably because you haven’t followed their instructions properly. I found myself in this situation after discovering I had been given 10 ampoules of salt water and some rubber grommets I didn’t know what to do with.

The problem is that ‘there is no umbrella’.

There’s usually a ‘care umbrella’ marshalling you through the traumatic parts of your treatment, and in the current situation that doesn’t exist. The NHS doesn’t kick you out the door once they’ve bunged you full of meds, their staff assiduously follow up but they don’t cosset. That’s what your loved ones are for. The NHS gives you the access you need. They provide the tools and it’s your job to apply them.

So I need to listen more carefully now. Bad news is usually laid out nice and clearly, but is wisely revealed to you in stages. When my treatment ends the hardest part begins. Over the next two to three weeks everything gets worse. When doctors tell you it’s ‘challenging’ and that some people ‘decide not to continue’ (what with, living?) you take more notice. They see the exact same pattern repeated hundreds of times every month but it’s completely new to most patients. Whose advice are you going to take?

So I list the problems. Emergency contacts. Pain management. Physical issues. Infection. Movement. Sleep. Psychological mood. And the thing we don’t talk about – the odds. Because why speculate?

Displacement therapy works for me, so I fall back on books and films. Given that my neural responses aren’t up to writing a book at the moment the Netflix World Cinema section gets a smashing but is very quickly exhausted. Home entertainment companies, we don’t all want to watch teenagers fight robots. You make some great shows but I can’t watch anything else set in an Ohio high school – I feel like I went to one. I grew up steeped in Americana. I remember Lucille Ball’s maiden name on ‘The I Love Lucy’ show was McGillicuddy, for God’s sake. I was freaked out when Darrin changed actors on ‘Bewitched’ and nobody mentioned it.

So those are the most obvious problems with the Extreme Risk/Lockdown Combo. Now I should add the upsides.

After 30 years of existing on regular exercise and a high-fibre Mediterranean diet with daily fish I am now as listless as a spayed cat and have to switch to the kind of food I have only ever seen on Coronation Street.

Mash. Peas. Sausage rolls. Spaghetti Hoops, whatever they are. Gravy. I sent the Husband to buy a loaf of white sliced bread and got a Gail’s sourdough walnut and rosemary loaf back. ‘Well obviously I’m not going to buy white bread,’ he explained, looking mortified. This from someone whose idea of a plain supper last night was tempura courgette flowers with fennel. That’s pushing it, even for North London. Look in your cupboard and count how many types of oil you have. We have seven. Although we have a potato drawer that has never been opened.

As a result, overnight I have ballooned. This is apparently a Good Thing as I will soon be unable to eat. Late last night I scrabbled around and found a tin of baked bans (not Heinz, obvs, Duchy Organic), greedily emptying them over some non-white bread that I’m pretending is Sunblest. I ate it like a whipped dog in a corner, guiltily glancing around.

I am salivating at the thought of the ultimate forbidden patient foodstuff – ready meals. I think you just need a microwave and a spork. You don’t even need a plate. Or teeth. I’ll start calling lunch dinner and dinner tea, and get totally confused about whether supper even has a status anymore.

Coming next, drawstring day pants and watching ‘Repair Shop’. It’s going to get ugly.



25 comments on “The Lockdown Diaries 12: The Absence Of An Umbrella”

  1. brooke says:

    Oh, the joys of white bread, especially southern “dinner rolls.” With naked (no fennel, etc.) baked chicken; use dripping from chicken to make pan gravy. “Depression” meatloaf (just enough onion and celery to be palatable) works well with mash or white bread. Heinz would probably work better as the sugar would make you hungry.

    Sorry only one kind of oil in cupboard–spanish olive oil.

    In US healthcare staff are often not clear–you’ll figure it out except you don’t. I ask for written instructions or say “I need to write this down and I have some questions.”

    Hope today is a good day for you and you get some rest. Hugs.

  2. snowy says:

    If you have got a syringe/pump at home they are probably extra seals and flushing solution. [Ask somebody with a brain about them: ie. not me.]

    Beans on toast is quite healthy, but we can fix that with a nice thick layer of anchovy butter on the toast and a good handful of grated cheese on the top, [pop it under the grill to brown].

  3. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Or if you have a central/other IV line they could be for flushing that. If you phone the ward there should be someone who can tell you.
    Eat whatever you fancy. I don’t think any food is forbidden when having chemo.

  4. Agatha Hamilton says:

    Despite the depressing news about the prospects of your treatment – and I am so sorry you are having to go through this at a time when you can’t get proper backup from the hospital, your last two paragraphs did make me laugh.
    With the drawstring day pants, perhaps some bedroom slippers that do up with Velcro Would be perfect for while you are watching Repair Shop.
    Please just keep writing like this, it must be doing you good as well as us.

  5. Sarah griffin says:

    Perhaps, may I suggest a full fat risotto with bacon. Yes, it is Mediterranean in origin but based on your current desires view it as really savoury rice pudding which can enjoyed for what it is, a down right dirty slutty carb fest with lots of grated Parmesan. Chuck in some wilted baby spinach if other parties have to have a token veg fix.
    You are not putting on weight just building your own internal life vest!

  6. John Griffin says:

    Be honest Sarah, we Griffin’s do full fat. If anyone asks, mutter ‘keto’.

  7. Davem says:

    A South East Londoner eating Duchy Organic instead of Heinz!

    It’s good to move on Chris, but that’s a step too far.

    Keep strong.

  8. Agree with Snowy on the syringe/pump, except I thought syringes are all single use and throw away these days. Reminds me of trying to buy a syringe from a pharmacy in the Netherlands. “What do you want it for?” “To inject something.” “Inject what?” with a look that was severely in the accusative. “To inject grease through a rubber seal.” “Ours are for medical use and that’s not hygienic.”

    After all that: white toast plastered with honey and beef dripping.

  9. snowy says:

    It was my best guess after discarding all other uses, eg. strangle hamster with o-ring, brine legs in salt solution – too much fuss – for so little reward.

    But while I’m here; for those looking for a time-waster with songs and have exhausted Youtube, the people behind the Gilbert & Sullivan Festival have launched [Not free, bar a few odds and ends.]

  10. Lorraine says:

    Chris you never fail to make me laugh and capture my interest with stuff and I’ve read your books and blog for many years. I’m so bloody sorry that you have to go through all this – the treatment can be nothing short of gruelling. Stay strong and I just wanted to send my very best wishes! x

  11. Roger says:

    “Beans on toast is quite healthy, but we can fix that with a nice thick layer of anchovy butter on the toast and a good handful of grated cheese on the top”
    Why spoil it with baked beans, Snowy?

    Supper is what you eat when you’ve had your dinner (or lunch) and your tea (or dinner) and are still hungry in the (late) evening, Admin. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you feel sleepy afterwards. In fact, supper is when you can let your imagination loose on whatever is in the kitchen, especially if it’s years after the “best before” date.

  12. Roger says:

    Follow Lorraine’s advice: think of it all as future material for books.

  13. Debra Matheney says:

    Norman Cousins was the editor of the Saturday Review back in the day. He developed a serious illness, which the doctors thought he would not survive. When the going got tough, he decided to die laughing and started watching only comedies. All the laughter appeared to kick his immune system into over drive and he not only survived, but he wrote a best selling book, Anatomy of An Illness. Having a sense of humor may be your best asset. Take care.

  14. snowy says:

    Roger, I’d ditch the beans myself, but without some bulk the meal doesn’t ‘satisfy’, and they are part of the ‘5-a-day’.

    If you have to suffer the things, they are best smothered in synergistic unami, if you can still taste them between the anchovy and cheese, apply Worc. or Hendo’s sauce until the situation improves.

  15. Jo W says:

    Keep going,Chris and we’ll soon be calling you our roly-poly Admin. Ooh, that’s an idea -puddings. Baked jam roll, treacle pudding and spotted dick, all with lots of custard. Yummy.
    Take care, Chris, best wishes to you both.

  16. Ian Todd says:

    Ok I can’t be Middle Class enough but what is a potato drawer?

  17. Geoff Johnson says:

    Dear Mr. Fowler,

    I few years ago came across the Bryant & May series, read them all in order, and became a great fan. I soon found your blog and began lurking, prizing the insights about writers writing and the changes occurring in your beloved London. As a mystery writer in the making, I want to translate your use of wry humor (or is it humour?) and your knack for detailed research, in my case about my sweet home Chicago, into my own efforts.

    Emerging from the shadows today, I wanted to send my strongest vibes of support to you and most specially to your husband. As someone who spent several weeks in the hospital and then months at home battling very serious illness, I know I would not have come through without the love and very practical support of my wife. She took care of me when I could not fully take care of myself, cooking and encouraging me to eat, attending to everything else so I could spend all my energy upon healing. To him I say take heart and keep going. Rest when you can and stay strong because your husband needs you. A healthy sense of humor also helps a great deal.

    To you, Mr. Fowler, I say try to develop selective short term memory. Please remember always the small and large acts of kindness from the nurses and therapists and, yes, even the doctors too that will help you see yourself through this illness. Remember the loves and friendships the matter most. Forget the pains and discomforts that come along as quickly as you can. I hope your trials are less challenging than they could be. A healthy sense of humor also helps. And try to eat even when you just just want to lie still.

    Like myself, I am sure a world of fans would like to see at least five more Bryant & May books. A select few British writers wrote thirty or more mystery novels in series and you could certainly add your name to that pantheon.

    So I wish you the best and I will keep reading!

  18. snowy says:

    It’s one of those Design features that you only get in very posh kitchens, like a normal drawer but mesh, [that don’t really work as intended because nobody knows what to do with them].

    [Spuds and other roots should be be kept cool, dry and dark, [not in a fridge, too damp] . Potato drawers should be at the bottom of a cabinet on an external wall, ideally one that is un-insulated/has an air-brick. Have under-floor heating? Draw doesn’t work, too warm. Next to the fridge for convenience? Draw doesn’t work, heat from fridge. Next to oven? Waste of time. Directly over a plinth heater? Just give up and put pans in it instead.]

  19. Jan says:

    oh I never though of that Chris course you are on the white bread and meatpaste butties diet the really boring food things that won’t challenge your tastebuds at all!! The sort of stuff they served at kiddies parties when we were little blamange (which I have forgotten how to spell) Angel Delight, egg sandwiches. Are they insisting on I think It might be Kosher margarine. Honestly it’s so strange all the unhealthiest, blandest beigest food in the world the unhealthy health diet. You would be surprised how many gut and gastric ailments this is good for as well you know …especially err…in the older population!! Sorry Mr F.

    It seems so weird taking patients this sort of grub to eat because it feels like you are supplying them with the worst unhealthiest stuff ever. Tell you wot though governor for the even older patient things get better still they reckon now that in your 80s and 90s the rules of nutrition can be virtually turned on their head. Instead of healthy well balanced meals being recommended the meal is supplied along with high carb and high fat snacks which become the order of the day. Where I’m at now the place abounds with packets of crisps, and biscuits, cheesy wotsits prawn crackers Milky ways Chocolate Freddie frog bars. It’s a wonderful wonderful thing when what the aged body needs is tons of hi fat, carb snacks.

    You ‘ll be wanting sausage and mash soon and none of your old Toulouse sausages neither real Richmonds with proper beans and microwave mash. Poached fish and parsley sauce if parsley is permitted or poached fish in milk and white sauce with more mash…

    Try and stay away from the purees where they put all the pureed food to set in like jelly moulds so you get pretend sort of green pea shaped blobs and pretend pork chop shaped blobs. Heston Blumenthal it ain’t!!! In fact it’s really bizarre….

  20. Helen Martin says:

    The things you learn on this site! I’ve just resolved to live into my 80s so I can eat anything I like.
    My husband I both have relations on the Prairies, Saskatchewan specifically, so I become very confused when meals are referred to and just ask what time it is to be. No problem with breakfast – we’re just breaking our fast – but after that it gets wild. Dinner is at noon – makes sense if you’ve had people out doing heavy lifting for hours. Supper is whatever time your evening meal is and is usually lighter than “dinner”. Any food served at any other time – before noon, mid afternoon or a social event after “supper” is lunch. I remind myself of the details when I cross provincial boundaries – which we’re not doing any time soon.
    The laughter therapy certainly works in mild situations so why not in serious ones? and what can it hurt? A good laugh is satisfying to the whole body and much of the mind as well.
    Did you hear that Milton Keynes has one of those Singapore walking talking robot dogs? I think it delivers groceries.

  21. Geoff Johnson says:

    Mr. Fowler,

    I reread the text of the post I sent yesterday, the first of its kind for me, and unfortunately find that my earnestness overrode propriety leading me into presumption. I am sorry. The last thing I want is to add even the slightest to your troubles.

    Please let it suffice that I as a fan of your writing I wish you all luck and success. I hope to read many more Bryant & May adventures in crime solving.


  22. Ian Luck says:

    A potato drawer? How outré! We manage perfectly well with a paper sack. Beans on toast yes. Heinz beans and expensive bread – I find mature cheddar and Jalapeno or olive bread is best. Sliced white Sunblest is best for Marmite and Dairylea sandwiches, I find. Childish, yes, but stupidly good. It’s also best for yer actual bacon sarnie, and the chip butty. Nothing comes close. None of your artisanal bakery bollocks. If I see the word ‘Artisan’ on a shopfront or market stall, I immediately look round for something large, breakable, and throwable. It’s people like me what causes unrest. I only wanted a bleedin’ corned beef and horseradish sandwich, on soft white bread!

  23. Ed DesCamp says:

    I don’t know if milkshakes are popular in the UK, but my aunt decided, at age 93, that she’d been yelled at once too often by her daughter in law about eating healthy ever meal, and always had us bring her a large “real ice cream” milkshake from her favorite drive-in whenever we’d visit. Made her smile!

  24. Jan says:

    Well it’s got to be said who would really be wanting a bacon butty (not a BLT where wholemeal or seeded works fine) but a proper bacon butty with HP or if you are complete heathen tomato ketchup.- with brown bread? That’s a disgrace

    Or a sausage butty with tomato ketchup( or HP should you be a complete heathen) sometimes the true connoisseur ”s choice is proper white plastic bread. It’s the complete stuff to give the troops nothing better.

    1960s peasant food is what this is – in 30 years the cognoscenti will recognise its real value and true taste and try and recreate very large industrial unit bakeries to perfect this Industrialised artisanal food. “Added vitamins “some food writer will say. “Mothers pride” some Nigel Slater replacement will chip in. . Youngsters will leave art skools And university and they will start at these factories. The chi-chi bakeries of North London will be well passe( or past it. In the fashionable phraseology of the day)
    Everything comes full circle. The super bland diet is just propelling you way ahead of the curve. It’s the business. Eat loads. Try KFC gravy if poss. Bliss in liquid form.When it’s open again McDonald’s milkshake strawberry And their Mr Whippy ice cream.Simple build up of calories … You know if makes sense.

    And beans I only ever buy supermarket generic product baked beans.

    If cooking for the boys when they were little I used to add a drop of Heinz TK to the cheapo beans . Until that is Jonjo caught me and then there was trouble. Now I don’t even bother can’t taste no difference not at all.

    Sometimes proper food just isn’t proper healthy food or proper posh grub.
    It’s just what you really like.

    Eat loads of what you really fancy now Chris everything from.Barrett sherbert fountains onwards ! You’ll be lots better off this is playing the long game. Have a good day.

    Sorry very disjointed msg Chris had what I thought was power cut but was a blown fuse. Getting washing out of machine and eating breakfast. Day off but busy

  25. Annemarie Pondo says:

    My husband was given atavan all through his chem and transplant. It really worked for him. Asked for it. Loveya

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