Looking for something?

Monday, 25 August 2014

Warning! Serious Post Ahead

I know, I know, I haven't continued with the story of mes aventures en Paris yet. Believe me, they will come sooner rather than later.

But I have something more important, more pressing, to say. Below is something I said to a friend of mine yesterday.

"Our mortality is inevitable. Unwarranted, undeserved, untimely and unstoppable, but inevitable. But know this, that no matter when the inevitable comes, or for whatever reason it comes, you will have left your mark on this world. Some marks are bigger than others. It grows with age. But everyone, from birth, leaves footprints for the rest of their world. It doesn't matter where or how you leave these footprints. It just matters who you leave them for."

Everyone leaves footprints in the choir.

You see, being a member of the Hallé Youth Choir isn't just about singing. 

When you sign up, you are signing up to change. Everyone changes a bit when they have been in the choir. Even if you don't admit it, you change. And when you sign up, you're not just signing up to sing. Neither are you signing up to be part of a group of friends. You are signing up to be family. 

Never is this more evident than in the times when things go wrong.

On our second day of tour, our first concert, we - the choir and Richard - left our bags and possessions in two separate locked rooms. When we came back, one of the girls was crying by her bag. Everyone was urged to check all their belongings immediately.

There were 51 choir members, 4 staff members and 2 coach drivers. Over 30 choir members and our choral director got most, if not all, of their money stolen. In total, well in excess of 3000€ went missing.

Mine was left untouched, as were the possessions of about 20 of the choir members, 3 of the staff members and both coach drivers. But that didn't mean we felt nothing. Quite the opposite. It hit us like a rock, and although we all threw around conspiracy theories, one thing was pretty much certain: it wasn't one of us.

The biggest shock was the fact it was in a church, in God's house, in plain view of everyone either in the church or outside from an external entrance.

The biggest injustice though was the one I felt so strongly.

With me, I had a bank card which I could have used to draw money from any cash machine at no additional cost, and I had plenty on it. If I had had my money stolen that day, I would have had no problem, money-wise, as I could have replaced it all that night. But so many, so so many, of those who had all their trip money taken had not brought a bank card with them. This wasn't their fault. None of it was. But they couldn't replace their own money. They hadn't the means. And yet their money had been taken. Angry tears are accumulating even as I write this, because the injustice was huge. Massive. And there was nothing, nothing, I could do to help except offer my services, say my prayers, and give a few euros here and there.

Richard spent most of the night at the gendarmerie talking to the police, giving statements etc. etc.. Bear in mind, all his money had been taken too. The police wanted to have everyone in to take statements, which would have taken up the whole of the next day and meant nobody could do anything on the itinerary. So he spent a long time convincing the officers that that was unnecessary. He left relatively early on in the evening and still hadn't returned by the time the over-16s had gone to bed at 11:00pm.

The next day, Sunday, our administrator gave 10€ to everyone who had lost money out of her own money. That would have been at least 300€ in total.

On Monday, everyone was refunded from the Hallé accounts. Again, over 3000€ in total which, despite the fact it is quite a well-funded account, is quite a setback when it is taken all in one go.

And through all of this, the support everyone showed for each other was immense. Solidarity is a good word, although I shall continue to search for a word that really fits what happened. I can't really talk about us as 'those affected' and 'those unaffected' because really, no-one was unaffected. It hit us all, and has left an imprint in the minds of everyone who was there.

I guess what I'm trying to talk about here - and heck yes, this is soppy, but I don't care - is love. Not romantic love. But the love that people talk about when they say 'love others'.

Love comes from music, and music comes from love. So, as long as a person can make music, that person shall never be incapable of love.

Goodnight x

Sunday, 17 August 2014

One Tour Rate - Jour 1, Amour Numéro Un...

Now, that is what I call a gloomy ferry port.

It rained intermittently most of the way from Manchester to Dover. Thank Goodness we weren't walking (although I suppose if we were, the rain would have been the least of our problems!) because we would have been soaked and would probably have been told to swim the channel rather than drip onto the ferry!

The journey was about 8 hours, with a stop about halfway there to get lunch and another short stop to collect our choral director, Richard. 

Our lunch stop was fairly normal, and I had a pretty good brie-and-grape sandwich with a bottle of rhubarb-and-strawberry fizz (the best drink ever) while my friends sat around me drinking coke and eating McDonald's. 

Now, here comes the part which will probably stop anyone reading my blog, ever.

I collect teddy bears from Build-A-Bear Workshop (formerly The Bear Factory). They are those teddy bears that you choose from a selection and then stuff. Once you have done this, you get given a fabric heart which you have to kiss, dance with and make your BABW Promise over before shoving it rather unceremoniously into your new bear's stuffing. The bear gets stitched up, you choose some clothes, make a birth certificate, actually pay for the bear (after all that, you have to remember the formalities and, of course, the legal obligations) and take it home.

I have about eight of them now. My first bear harks back to the times of The Bear Factory and I have had him since I was two, back when it was actually socially acceptable to call a teddy bear 'Growler' (it was perfectly good at the time, seeing as he had a box in him which made a growling noise if you pressed it) and he went with me to Cornwall in 2011, Belgium in 2012 and my first BBC Proms Concert in 2012, amongst other things. He was well received, and the only reason I didn't take him last year was because I couldn't find him, so I took my lion, Frecks, instead (come on, I was only 6). Of course, they stayed in the accommodation during the day, but they were there for the journeys and for the nights.

This year, however, I started to worry (completely unfoundedly) that I was going to look babyish and stupid taking a fully-clothed teddy bear to Paris, so I left Growler at home.

Of course, being the kid-at-heart that I am, I started to miss him. So when I saw this little £8 gem at the service station, I couldn't resist. I just had to buy him!

(Come on, admit it, he's cute.)

On the ferry, I changed into my brand-new pyjamas, dosed up on seasickness tabs, put on my SeaBands and grabbed myself some dinner with everyone else before going down to the shop in the hope of finding some Calypo shots (you know, those little balls of flavoured ice in the twist-and-tip containers?). Unfortunately, it would seem that ice creams and ice lollies are obsolete on ferries.

However, it didn't take me long to find this.

This, if you can't tell, is a giant Tic Tac box. And it is full of…

I regularly consume Tic Tacs and they are great for sharing round, especially at choir. Our choral director loves them, most people at choir love at least one of the four flavours in the box, and I love them too. Plus, most people like mini things or oversized things (I reject crude jokes in this department!) because they are cute or cool or whatever. So as you can guess, finding this was pretty exciting!

The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful. People started to get tired pretty quickly and soon many people were asleep.

When we got to the hotel, we found our rooms, chucked our stuff down and slept.


The rest of the updates will come tomorrow, but for now I'm going to leave you with this seagull who is, quite frankly, an idiot:

Goodnight all x

One Tour Rate - The Back Story

I am a member of the Hallé Youth Choir, and every summer we go on tour. My first year, it was Cornwall. My second year, we went to Belgium. Last year we hit Scotland.

And this year we went to Paris.

What you have to know about HYC is it is full of nutty, fun, caring, unique and generally just awesome people. This video sums us up, really. I've been amongst this crazy lot since I was 12 as the youngest member, and now I'm 16, I'm one of the elders.

And what you have to know about this year's tour is that it was extremely important to me. About 7 weeks ago, on Thursday 12th June, I had my appendix removed due to suspected appendicitis. It was a bit of a blow, as I was set to sit the second half of my GCSE Maths, the last of all my GCSE exams, the next day, and some of my friends and I were going to go out to celebrate finishing our exams off. Of course, that didn't happen for me: firstly, I was in hospital rather than in town, and secondly, I never actually finished my GCSEs, and now am going to be the only top-set AS student at my college who will also be sitting their Maths GCSE. Yay.

Then, two weeks before tour, I got a letter from one of the two large hospitals near me (oddly, I had only spent 1 hour in that hospital's Urgent Care Centre on Tuesday before being transferred to Blackburn Hospital, where I was between for the next few days) saying that I had to visit the post-operative clinic two days later on the Monday (of course, that isn't short notice at all…) for follow-up.

Now, that might not seem so strange, but it was really quite weird. Firstly, because I had spent an hour, tops, at the hospital I was being seen at, so the fact that they had scheduled me to go there rather than to the same clinic at Blackburn hospital a week or so later was unusual in itself. Secondly, and possibly most importantly, I had been told quite confidently that I would have no follow-up after the operation, and my pathology results would be sent to my GP within 10 days.

So why the heck was I having an appointment with a doctor I had never heard of in my life, 28 days post-op., at a hospital I barely knew? And if they had waited that long, why couldn't they have waited another few days to give me an appointment with the surgeon who actually operated on me, at the hospital I spent over 80 hours at in total?

I got to the hospital, had some lunch with my mum, and went in for my appointment. I was expecting a check of the wounds, a few questions, maybe a full blood count, and a "see your GP if you have any problems".

I got the check of the wounds. The doctor who saw me was so incredibly Scottish (no offence to any Scottish people, but you had to be there) that it was a strain not to crack a grin. He told me I had had appendicitis (trust me, that's a good thing, see my earlier posts to reassure yourselves that I'm not crazy) and sat me down (hellooo, alarm bells, are you ringing yet?) to tell me that my pathology result had come through.

He said they had found an 'abnormality' in my appendix. He said it was called a Neuroendocrine Tumour. He said it was Stage 1 (thank everything above this earth) but especially in light of my other symptoms (fatigue, nausea, pain etc.) they had to run a series of blood tests and a specialist urine test for a serotonin-converting enzyme called '5-HIAA'. So far, apart from having to redo the Chromogranin A blood test, the other tests look ok, so maybe I'll be back to Square 1 soon. But they have high recurrence figures, and they also have a tendency to appear in completely unrelated parts of the body, which is called 'distal recurrence'. They are also pretty rare, so when I tried to find anything about NETs it was a struggle, let alone NETs in people under the age of about 70. Hence why I have this blog and why I'm writing about a tumour I hopefully don't have anymore.

This was the reason that Paris meant so much to me this year. Obviously it meant a lot because I was with HYC, with the people who are like family to me, and I was singing with HYC which is an experience I wouldn't trade for the stars.

And this year, I got a taste of how quickly life can change, and how you could suddenly face being stripped of the things you loved so much.

The next few posts track the days of tour, so read on for the ups and downs of tour life.

Coming Back to Earth

While I was away in Paris (that post is on its way, don't worry!) I tried not to think too much about my tests. I tried to obliterate pain and fatigue and breathlessness and just enjoy being with my friends and having a great time in general. It was actually kind of working, pretty much.


We took a trip to the Louvre on the 3rd day, and it was pretty darned good. I didn't see the Mona Lisa (I know, I know, shame on me) but I saw many ancient works of art.

Then, halfway through the second of the three galleries I saw, I got a text from my doctor's surgery (that Patient Access thing is pretty handy, but really crap at timing) saying that I had to go back to the blood clinic for another Chromogranin A test.


Back to earth.

Monday, 4 August 2014

First Day Over + Memory Monday

First Day Over

Today was the first day of the HYC summer course and it was brilliant! It felt so good seeing everyone again, and the harmony workshop we did based on 'Steal Away' was actually really relaxing and a good laugh, although I must say, once you've done Tippett you can't undo Tippett. It was pretty impossible not to slip into that gorgeous alto line, even for us sopranos.

On the way back, I also had the most intimate train journey ever. It was peak rush-hour time when I caught my changeover train from Bolton, and I ended up with my face no more that 15cm away from the chests of the two guys in front of me. Plus, I kept making awkward eye contact with these two guys and my grin wasn't particularly friendly given the fact I was in a confined space, worryingly close to people I have never seen in my life, in a position where I could not turn side-on, nor could I turn my back on them because my nose would have been touching the wall, and had I averted my gaze to the floor I would also have inadvertently been staring blatantly at their crotches.

But hey, apart from the moral dilemma that is catching a train, the day was great and I'm looking forward to tomorrow!


Memory Monday - Appendicitis

10/06/2014, 20:00

"Dad, I've got this really sharp pain in my stomach..like, on my right..just..there..can I have a couple of Rennies?"

10/06/2014, 20:30

The sharp pain was getting worse, and I felt sick. I wasn't hungry, so my dad checked my temperature; 38.6ºC, which is high for me.

10/06/2014, 22:00

The pain was now really bad and I felt sick, sleepy and out of it. Walking hurt, standing hurt, moving hurt and my joints were aching (they usually hurt, but this was a flu-like ache) so my dad called my mum and 111. The 111 service told us to go to the Urgent Care Centre at Burnley Hospital at 23:00 and there would be a GP ready to see me.

10/06/2014, 22:15

My mum had arrived home and helped me upstairs to grab my emergency bag (basically a small messenger bag with hand sanitiser, a phone charger, my iPhone, earphones, any medicines I'm taking, wipes, deodorant, water, my sleeping mask and a spare t-shirt) as well as a bowl for me.

10/06/2014, 22:30

We all got into the car and drove. I put my music on to see if I could sleep a bit or at least keep my mind off the pain and sickness.

10/06/2014, 23:00

We got to the UCC at Burnley Hospital and went in. It was all bright lights and brand-new furniture and they gave me one of those card bowls they have. I had to produce a urine sample too so they could check it for protein, glucose and infection.

10/06/2014, 23:45

I was seen by a female GP who said the urine test was negative, meaning it was not a urine infection and was unlikely to be a sudden problem with my kidneys. She examined me, found tenderness and guarding in my lower right abdomen. We were bumped to Blackburn Hospital (where, to be honest, we could have gone in the first place..but then again, the care I received probably wouldn't have been the same if we had gone to A&E) and although there were no spaces on paediatrics, they sent me to the Surgical Triage Unit (B14) and after much discussion we were finally on our way.

11/06/2014, 00:15

We arrived at Blackburn Hospital at the main entrance. It was creepy; WHSmiths was shuttered up, and the video-of-a-nurse-on-a-plastic-cut-out-of-a-nurse who/that always lectures passers-by on the necessity of using hand gel in hospitals was off for a change. Grabbed a Porta 200 wheelchair on the way and spent a few minutes bumping into walls before my mum got the hang of it.

11/06/2014, 00:30

Arrived at B14, did urine sample, and was sent to waiting area.

11/06/2014, 00:45

Nurse called me out and took vitals as well as bloods. The other doctors and nurses nicknamed her 'The Vampire' for her uncanny ability to draw blood from anyone, including me, with my weeeird veins.

11/06/2014, 01:30

Dr Chris saw me with my mum. He was cheery and funny and managed to make me smile even though I wasn't feeling too great. He examined me, and asked me what I was worried about. I said I was originally concerned it might be appendicitis, but I wasn't sure. He said he was concerned about that too, and he got up my full blood count and said my white blood cell count was up, so he would like to keep me in. He asked if we wanted to wait with him for the results of the rest of the bloods but we figured we should go and tell my dad what Dr Chris had said.

11/06/2014, 02:30

Dr Chris told us that the rest of my bloods were fine, so actually I could go home and get some sleep there if I wanted. We all agreed I would sleep better at home, so Dr Chris scheduled me for an ultrasound at 11:00. We went home and turned in at about 03:30.

11/06/2014, 11:15

Had ultrasound at Blackburn Hospital, which didn't show massive inflammation of my appendix, although that is often the case with appendicitis patients anyway, so it was pretty inconclusive. We were sent back up to B14, where I was tagged up with a red hospital wristband.

11/06/2014, 12:15

Had bloods taken while seeing Dr James, a kind and straight-talking guy who told me things as they were. He examined me (dear goodness, how many people?!), reminded me that it is rare that the ultrasound shows up appendicitis, and said he could tell I was in a lot of pain, which is something, considering I have a VERY high pain threshold and I can be in excruciating pain and only be a bit tense on the outside. He said bloods would take about an hour to come through (they go straight from the STU to the emergency box in the labs so they are fast-tracked) and said we could probably go down to the hospital restaurant and get a drink or something. He wrote a prescription for me for Paracetamol and Tramadol, which my dad took to the pharmacy while my mum wheeled me down to the restaurant. I picked at a bit of pasta but really wasn't all that hungry and still felt sick and eating just made the pain worse anyway.

11/06/2014, 13:30

Dad finally joined us and explained that the delay was caused by not only a long queue at the pharmacy but also the fact that Dr James had written up the prescription wrong, so he had to go back and get it rewritten before the pharmacy could accept it.

11/06/2014, 13:45

Went back up to B14, and were told there was a delay because Dr James had had to go to an emergency operation, so we could be waiting a few hours. The nurses were actually really great, keeping us informed so that we weren't waiting around getting frustrated because we were there for so long. I mean, what the heck, we're human, that happened anyway..but at least we knew it was nobody's fault.

11/06/2014, 17:30

Dr James saw us again and apologised for the delay and for the problem with the prescription. Turns out, Tramadol is a choice drug really, in that different hospitals can choose whether it is a controlled drug or not. What the heck?! It's an opiate. It is stronger than codeine. Codeine is a controlled drug…so why should they choose if Tramadol is..? Eh well, I'm not here to rant about pharmaceuticals. So. Dr James explained that my bloods were back to normal, so he didn't feel any urgency to operate that day…but if I was still in pain tomorrow, then to come straight back in at 08:00 because they would need to find out what was going on in there.

11/06/2014, 18:30

We got home, and I took a Tramadol. Note to readers: it tastes very slightly like sushi.

11/06/2014, 22:00

I took another Tramadol and went to bed.
Never again.

12/06/2014, 07:00

I woke up with my head being crushed in by needles from all sides of my skull. The needles were on fire and the sickness that accompanied it was like nothing I had ever felt before. I sat up in bed and a huge wave of pain came crashing down over my head, my face, my eyes and my throat. My lungs were prickling so I grabbed my inhaler and had a drink of water. The nausea was building, it was crescendoing.

12/06/2014, 07:45

The nausea reached its peak just as the car was about to set off for the hospital. I choked, I couldn't breathe, I felt like I was drowning..and then, completely effortlessly, came the water I had drunk when I got up. My parents cleaned me up and binned the bowl, got another one and we set off for the hospital, while I cried, "get me to the hospital, they can stop me being sick, they can put me to sleep, they can make this go away!"
Then I put my headphones in and listened to 'The Drugs Don't Work', by The Verve.
It seemed fitting.

12/06/2014, 08:30

We reached the hospital, apologised for the delay and were taken immediately to a side room.

12/06/2014, 08:45

A nurse came in and took my blood pressure and sats (just bordering on 96%) and said she would get me an antiemetic and some painkillers. I was short with her, because the nausea was building again and I could feel it coming.

12/06/2014, 09:00

The nurse came in and gave me two white pills, which were apparently the antiemetic. But just as she was leaving, again, the nausea reached its peak and again I choked and gasped for air and again I was suddenly, effortlessly sick in a papier maché bowl. The nurse went and got me an injection of cyclizine, an antihistamine-based antiemetic, and I just wanted to be sick again to get rid of the horrible, ominous, mounting sickness growing in me once more.

12/06/2014, 09:20

Peaked. Choked, gasped for air. Sick again.

12/06/2014, 09:30-?

Various people came and went. A theatre co-ordinator lady came in and told me I was next on the list. I think they took pity on me because I was the youngest person they had seen in, like, forever on their ward and I felt so sick I refused to lie down because that just made it worse, and the antiemetic didn't stop me being sick or even feeling sick, it just made me feel sick for longer before I was actually sick..so it pretty much just prolonged the torture.
A junior doctor came in and did the neatest and most central cannula I have ever seen, although he brought in a pink dangly cannula and had to go and exchange it for a light blue one as soon as I mentioned my bad veins. He ordered me some fluids, but I was taken off to theatre before they came, so I just got them there.
I was sick again.
A phlebotomist came and took a load of bloods (I swear all the doctors and nurses in Lancashire have been replaced with vampires!) which didn't bother me in the slightest.
Dr James came and talked me through the procedure. He told me I wouldn't be doing the exam the next day (GCSE Maths final exam) and that I would be in a lot of pain. In fact, to quote him exactly, he was going to "stab [me] three times". And you know what, that was the best thing anyone said to me while I was there. It may sound harsh, but it was the truth. It was pretty much literally what he was going to do, and it prepared me for what was going to happen.
I was sick again.
Dr James came back with the consent form for me to sign. A nurse followed a couple of metres behind to hand me fashion statement of the year - yes, I actually made that joke right there in the hospital with sickness, abdominal pain and the worst headache I have ever had, right in front of the surgeon who would be operating on me - namely The Hospital Gown, with the matching accessories, The DVT Stockings and The Paper Knickers.
People kept asking me what I was allergic to and after this happened a few times, I asked the junior doctor why people kept asking me that. Turns out, the red wristband means 'allergies'. Well hey, you learn something new every day!
I was taken to the anaesthetic prep room and given pre-med and general anaesthetic.
Sick again.

12/06/2014, 12:27

I fell asleep in the prep room and was taken to theatre shortly afterwards to have a laparoscopic appendicectomy.

12/06/2014, 14:30

I was shaken awake in the recovery ward, and I opened my eyes to an Asian lady, presumably a doctor, and the nice theatre tech who had wheeled me to theatre both telling me to take deep breaths through the high-flow oxygen mask attached to my face. The first thing I said was, "Hey! I don't feel sick anymore!"
Ohh. That was short-lived.
Anyway, this happened about 6 more times before I decided to ask them why they kept telling me to "take deep breaths". Well, apparently, I reacted a bit strongly to the anaesthetic and as a result I wasn't really breathing; my resps were around the 4-8 mark, which tends to freak doctors out a bit!

12/06/2014, 14:45

The morphine shots the doctor gave me in recovery chose that moment to kick in. I suddenly felt that terrible nausea filling me up again, and I panicked and freaked out, saying, "you've got to get me upright! I can't be lying down! Sit me up! I have to be sat up! Please!" and they sat me up. A little while later, they called my mum down (my dad had gone home to get some things and to sort the dogs out), hooked me up to a portable oxygen cylinder and wheeled me up to paediatrics C-Side.
Various nurses came and went, checking my obs, adjusting my oxygen to a slightly higher flow at the doctor's recommendation, giving me painkillers and checking I was ok.
Dr James came down at some point and checked out my operation sites, asked me if I was alright and answered a few of my questions.
I completely refused to lie down, but that meant battling the sedative effects of the anaesthetic and the morphine…
Sick again.

12/06/2014, 17:30

My dad came up and took over from my mum for a bit.

12/06/2014, 20:00

My sister came over and spent an hour with my dad and I, but I was too tired to do much so I chatted vaguely for about 10 minutes before putting the oxygen mask and my sleep mask on and falling fast asleep until she left at 21:30 and my oxygen was turned off.

12/06/2014, 22:30

My mum returned and slept in a fold-out bed next to mine. We fell asleep in an empty ward, by the soft glow of the monitor by my bed and the dim lighting in the corridor.

13/06/2014, 06:30

I woke up to the sounds of a ward full of children with various broken limbs in various states of surgical need; one or two had already been seen and were just getting ready to be taken into surgery, while the rest were going to be seen at various points during the day. Orthopaedic surgeons came around to see all the different children, and I got another visit from Dr James, checking I'm ok, checking my operation sites, telling me what he saw when he cut into me. Turns out, I'm not a robot after all :D
Children went and returned about an hour later. Some were discharged only an hour or two after they were operated on, but one or two were still there by the time I managed to nibble some fruit and curly fries (definitely the best thing on the Blackburn Hospital Menu!) at around 15:00. I was the eldest there by far (not counting my mum and the nurses!) and I came to realise through that stay that 16 is an odd age; too young for adult wards, but too old for paeds. Paediatrics weren't originally going to take me - although they were fantastic when they did - but the adult ward had concerns that I was young…oh dear. To be 17. Or 15. Or in fact any age but 16.

13/06/2014, 17:30

Two of us left on the ward; a boy with a fractured arm from playing football, and my good self. They brought around the food we had ordered earlier on from the card menus they bring around with bright pictures on them. I had some fish fingers, peas and mash, with ice cream for dessert (perfect for my post-intubation sore throat!) and I managed to keep it all down.

13/06/2014, 18:00

The young boy across from me was discharged, and I put Pitch Perfect on on my iPad.

13/06/2014, 18:30

I was out.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Review: The Able Spacer by Clement Clarke

Alright, so that title made it sound like I was reviewing a badly-titled, pretty awful-sounding book by a guy named Clement Clarke.

Don't worry, I'm not reading books like that just yet!

No, today I'm reviewing this:

This is the Able Spacer by Clement Clarke International. This is the spacer I use with my Ventolin Evohaler (i.e. the blue one, the puffer, help-I-can't-breathe) and in just three short paragraphs I am going to tell you all about this device.

Let's start with the cons. Well, to be honest, there are very few. I suppose it doesn't come in any other colours but this one, so you have to like it or lump it. It comes in a box which for all the world looks like the kind of box that you would get something in that you buy on a teleshopping channel:

I mean, I honestly expected to find 'As Seen on TV' somewhere on the box when I got mine at the pharmacy a few months ago. But hey, the actual product is what matters, and although efficacy is the most important thing when looking at health products like this, the actual spacer is streamlined, compact and simple in design. Not bad, really. However, there has to be a hamartia to this design and it is this:

You see where the blue bit at the top is attached to the clear bit? It isn't actually sealed. It is simply clicked into position. Because of this, the top bit has this unnerving tendency to come off when is opened. Of course, the blue bit itself clicks solidly onto the clear bit, and if it comes out then it is as simple as sliding it back into position. But this is a concern when you are opening the device up for cleaning or storage.

However, the pros far outweigh the cons. The spacer looks fairly cool (in spacer terms, obviously. It's hardly fashion statement of the year, let's face it) and its streamlined and compact design means it fits easily into a handbag or schoolbag or music bag, or even into the pockets of cargo or army trousers, if you aren't fussed about the little bump sticking out of your leg. It doesn't need to be dismantled to do so, as it is just under 15 cm long, 2 inches wide and 1.5 inches at its thickest part. Also, the Able Spacer has a very clever little mechanism which means that 1 inhaler can be stored INSIDE the spacer, like so:

This is my favourite feature, and definitely the spacer's best quality. It is really made to fit 1 larger inhaler, such as the Ventolin inhaler (a blue reliever inhaler) or any reliever MDI (200 metered doses), but you may well be able to squeeze in two smaller inhalers, like two preventer inhalers (don't quote me on this!) and I know for certain that for those of us who struggle to keep track of how many puffs we have used up, there is a bit of extra room which fits in one of those mini Sharpie pens, perfect for marking off those puffs on the canister or case!

So overall, despite the lack of colour choice, the dappy packaging and the worrying bit of extra plastic, the spacer's streamlined and compact design makes for easy washing and portability, as well as being lightweight for use. Actually being able to store an inhaler inside it is really awesome, as it means that inhaler and spacer are always together (aww, how cute) and it takes up less space on my person, as well as reassuring parents that their child always has their inhaler and spacer with them in one place.

For me, the Able Spacer is a winner, and although I was apprehensive when I first got it, I now know I wouldn't use anything else.

"We're Going on an Adventure, Go-Gi-Gi-Ah"

My title comes from the completely awful but still widely-viewed brand-new children's programme, Baby Jake, which my best friend (my ever-so-awesome best friend) introduced me to a few days ago. She came across it whilst doing work experience at the Phoenix Special School near Peterborough. Now, why they are showing children with no language abilities and multiple learning and physical disabilities programmes with songs like "Yaki yaki yogi, do do dee, ba ba ba bee bee you see" on it is completely beyond me…but hey, if they like it, I suppose we just have to lump it.

But this post isn't about cute-but-creepy half-baby half-cartoon characters on TV, this post is about the adventure I'm embarking on this week.

I'm a member of the Hallé Youth Choir. We rehearse every Sunday during term-time, do various concerts (including BBC Proms, Elbow etc.) which require further weekday rehearsals, we busk in the cold at Christmas under the incandescent glow of the lights in the city centre (crikey, I make it sound really romantic. It kind of is, I guess, but it would be more romantic and magical and sweet if we weren't freezing cold), we sing great music, we get free stuff and have fun and have awesome rehearsals with our super-awesome choral director, Richard, affectionately referred to as The Force.

And every year, around August time, we go on tour.

We have a course beforehand, which is about 4-5 days long and consists of tutti rehearsals (all of the choir singing together), sectional rehearsals (sopranos, altos, tenors and basses rehearsing separately) with specialist tutors, breaks and workshops, which are basically really fun little sessions in small groups where we do various things that aren't what we usually do at HYC, such as conducting, chamber group singing, barbershop singing, opera and other things. The day always starts with an outdoors warm-up with normal exercises, crazy exercises and physical exercise (on my first tour, there was a big pond thing outside and we had to run two laps of that each morning) and the past three times we have done this as a combined effort with the Hallé Youth Choir and our partner orchestra, the Hallé Youth Orchestra, but this year they did their course separately to us :-(

Then the HYC and HYO part ways to do three concerts in various locations within our tour destination. I've been in the HYC for four years, meaning so far I have done 3 tours with the choir. The first was to Cornwall in 2011, where we all did course and tour together in Cornwall (just separate locations for concerts) and we were there for 9 days overall. The second was to Belgium in 2012; our course beforehand lasted 4 days and was a non-residential course in Manchester with the orchestra before HYC (us) went to Belgium for 5 days and HYO went to Prague. We also did Proms #37, which was Elgar's 'The Apostles'. Last year, we did a residential course with the HYO in Giggleswick, Yorkshire, for 5 days, and then HYC went to Scotland for 4 days while HYO went to Gateshead. Before tour, we stayed for 6 days in Birmingham preparing for the first night of the Proms which was televised and can still be found on YouTube if you look for Vaughan-Williams' 'A Sea Symphony'. After tour, we stayed for a few days in London preparing to do Wagner's 'Parsifal' at the Proms, and honestly, if you do nothing else in your life, please, please listen to the last 5 minutes of it. It is gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

So this year, starting tomorrow, we are doing a non-residential course in Manchester (my train is at 7:05am, eugh) before going away to Paris for 6 days!!!

Ok, so admittedly the first and the sixth days are travelling, seeing as we are doing the coach-ferry-coach journey to Paris. But we have three breathtaking venues, good accommodation, a trip up the Eiffel Tower, to the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre, other places, some good restaurants, lots of free time, and 10 beautiful hours at Disneyland Paris the night before we go home.

So yeah, I'm going to make the most of this.

I'm going to have a great few days.

Watch this space for Parisian updates!

About Me - The Rest of My Life

Ok, so the last post was me rattling on about a really boring and slightly annoying and worrying hospital visit.

But I'm not all about the zebra-print ribbon. In the same way a man with breast cancer or a woman with melanoma or a child with leukaemia isn't just their cancer before their diagnosis, a teen who is being tested for NETs doesn't suddenly become a NET kid.

Before the pathology results two weeks ago, I was a 16-year-old girl sharing a birthday with my mum on April 13th each year. 

I was a 4-year-long member of the Hallé Youth Choir, a 5-year-long student at the Junior Royal Northern College of Music (a section of the main university that is basically a Saturday school for young musicians aged 8-18). I was going for my grade 8 exams in voice and cello next term, and my grade 5 exam in piano.

I was a Ventolin user, prone to chest infections and general pain. I was an Apple user, with my iPods and MacBook Pro and iPhone 4S and a healthy collection of out-of-date Apple products.

I was a tomato-lover and ravioli-hater, mostly vegetarian but partial to fish. 

I was a songwriter and composer, with an eclectic musical taste ranging from Gregorian chant, Tallis and Dowland, through Razorlight, Pärt and McTell, through Coldplay, Radin and Gershwin, through The Crests, Ella Fitzgerald and Presley, to R. Kelly, a little tiny bit of One Direction and Enrique Iglesias.

I was a lover of languages, having passed my GCSE Spanish with 94.6% in Year 9 (3rd Year, 8th Grade etc.) and getting fluent in French as quick as I can.

I was an animal lover and aspiring veterinary oncologist, with my 4-year-old working cocker spaniel Tillie and her 5.5-month-old puppy, Charlie.

I was the girl who would be sitting her GCSE Maths in the first term of college because of a pesky thing called Having Appendicitis (also known as World's Most Drastic Way of Getting Out of Exams).

I was occasionally shy, often crackers, fun-loving, in love with a guy who doesn't fancy me in the slightest (I mean, what the heck, who isn't?), excitable, creative, innovative, thoughtful, nuts and basically a teenager.

And screw it, I still am. And I am determined to make the most of the weeks before the test results come back.

If they come back positive, I know I'll have done some great things before I get plunged into the world of Having Cancer.

If they come back negative, I'll have had a great summer.

About Me - The Kitten that Got the Neuroendocream

Hi. I'm Lizzi, and about 6 weeks ago, I had my appendix removed (more on that later). Until a couple of weeks ago I had never heard of Neuroendocrine Tumours (not such a great thing to say when you want to be an oncologist!), so when I went back to the hospital for a post-op appointment, aside from being a bit curious as to why I was having an appointment when I had specifically been told I wouldn't need follow-up, I had no worries. So after a breakfast of tomatoes on toast with black pepper (the best thing ever, believe me), I went along to Burnley General Hospital with my mum (I was only there an hour as most of my treatment was at Blackburn - why was my appointment in Burnley, for crying out?) and had a lunch consisting of Kettle chilli crisps, a tuna-and-salad sandwich (with tomatoes, of course!) and a bottle of diet coke.

Suffice to say, being told they had found a Stage 1 NET in my appendix along with the appendicitis was a bit of a shock. I have been having increasingly severe and widespread bone, joint and nerve pain for almost a year now, along with headaches, fatigue and worsening breathing problems since about October last year (attributed to possible mild asthma and allergies) and I have a relatively strong family history of cancer; one of my maternal great-grandfathers died of cancer before I was born, as did one of my maternal great-aunts. My paternal grandfather and one of my paternal aunts died of prostate and ovarian cancer (respectively) when I was about 2, and another paternal aunt died last September after a terminal recurrence of the breast cancer she beat 7 years before. So you can see my concerns!

I also had a severe Vitamin D deficiency 4 years ago (8.5 mmol/l) and maybe the pain and the tiredness are related to that. Also, as the appendix is regarded often as a primary site for NETs and as mine was Stage 1, if that was found on a scan or something, I wouldn't be particularly worried as the whole tumour was excised in the appendectomy. But in light of my relatively recent problems, and my family history, I am concerned. The hospital ordered a series of blood tests, including tumour markers such as Chromogranin A (CgA), Parathyroid Hormone (PTH) and Fasting Gut Hormone Screen, as well as a 24-hour urine sample for tumour marker 5-HIAA.

Those above are the order forms for the bloods and 24-hour sample (I have blacked out things like my address, home number, hospital and NHS numbers as well as the information of the doctor who ordered the tests, for his own privacy) and I must say, they sound dead simple but really they are flipping complicated!

For starters, they were going to do my bloods right there in the outpatients unit at the hospital. But no, I have awkward veins that are really difficult to find, so they sent me over to the paediatric outpatients unit (been there before, that story is on its way soon!) and I waited there for a bit with my mum. But then the nurse pointed out that one of them was a fasting test - one out of 12 blood tests - so I would have to get them done at another date. Luckily, the blood clinic right across the road from me (the hospital is 30 mins away) had a slot at 9:10am the next day.

Then, I had to go to the pathology lab to collect my sample bottles. I wasn't sure how to get there, and the directions I had been given at the post-op clinic had been impossibly complicated, so I asked the nurse, figuring they would be less complex now I was in paeds.

Yeah, you got it, I was wrong.

"Well, you go out those double doors and all the way down the corridor, then you go down in the lift and turn left and go all the way along the corridor then you turn right and you go down the steps and then turn left and go up in the lift and then go back on yourself and then go down the stairs and turn left and go down the stairs and then through the double doors and then all the way along the corridor and then you can't miss it!"


Needless to say, when I got to the end of the corridor I had to ask for directions again. As I did once I had gone down the stairs, and turned left, and gone all the way down the corridor again…

Finally, I found it. The lady was really nice, and we both agreed that the pathology lab was nigh-on impossible to find. She gave me the bottle, asked if I might need another one (spoiler alert: I did) and then started telling me about the things I couldn't eat for a few days before doing the sample.

So, remember the tomatoes-on-toast combo I had for breakfast? And the banana I had a bit later on? And the sandwich with tomatoes on I had at the hospital? And the bottle of coke? I had the latter in my hand and just held it up sheepishly.
"Ah," she said, "you're going to have to do it on Thursday then."
I was given my bottles, told the results would take a few weeks, and then set free with a smile.

So, in view of the fact I would have to go tomato-/caffeine-/banana-free for the next 4 days, my dinner that night consisted of tomato-and-cheese pasta with tomato-and-basil bread, plus a good helping of tomato salad on the side, a can of diet coke to wash it down with, and a dessert of - you guessed it - bananas.