Six Lessons from the Eye Clinic

Today Sanjay takes his mother to her hospital appointment.

He’s a nice young man, a character from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. Although I made Sanjay up, maybe you know someone like him?

He and his mother walk past a sign warning of the symptoms of Ebola.

Not surprising the font on the sign is massive. This is the eye clinic.

1138666_78954230 medical eye

The morning is a learning curve. They arrive at 9.30am to find there are over 40 patients there already.

Beta, I should have brought chair from home,” says Mrs Shah. Here comes Lesson One: in addition to bringing glasses (including bifocals), appointment letters, and any medication they are taking, in original containers, patients should bring something to sit on.

The only empty seat belongs to a man who’s just gone to the loo, which doesn’t flush, as he explains to all and sundry on returning to waiting-room.

A poster on the wall advises patients that clinic visits can take up to four hours. The notice on a board by the receptionist says the clinic is running 90 minutes late. Sanjay isn’t sure if this time should be added to the four hours, or whether it is already part of it. Nobody knows. Lesson Two: don’t ask stuff. Just accept it may take some time.

They stand in the corridor for a while.  A nurse emerges from somewhere and calls out, “Philip Nutmeg” or something similar. When Mr Nutmeg fails to respond, she says it again, looking meaningfully at Mrs Shah. Sanjay says helpfully, “She’s not Philip Nutmeg.”

The nurse glares at him.

Frame on eye chart

Eventually Sanjay’s mother is summoned into a little room to have her vision tested by another nurse, and to learn Lesson Three: computerised medical records do not necessarily contain any medical records. The entire hospital went computerised two months ago, this nurse says, but there are no clinical data on them. So Mrs Shah gets to recite her entire medical history. She looks over the nurse’s shoulder to make sure she writes everything down.

When they come out again, a cleaner in a hijab is here to deal with the loo. And Philip Nutmeg still hasn’t shown.

Lesson Four: nobody gives old people a seat, not even when they are rubbing their knee and looking around hopefully.  It shocks Sanjay that not one person has stood up for his poor old mother.  He considers ejecting someone forcibly, but then his mum isn’t as old or as poor as some of the others.

In the corridor there are two wheelchairs blocking doorways. In one, a woman with one leg. In the other, a man (or possibly a woman). This person has two legs, but Sanjay is not sure about the face because it’s covered with a blanket.

There’s also an old man pushing out some zeds and a younger man who reeks of alcohol. It is 10.45am.

Sanjay notices a woman with a pinched face and a jute bag bearing the name of a firm of solicitors. The doctors will love that, thinks Sanjay.

One of the doctors appears now to find out what’s wrong with the man with the blanket on his head. He insists there’s nothing wrong, but the light hurts his eyes.

Lesson Five, thinks Sanjay: bring dark glasses to the eye clinic because the lights can become unbearable once you’ve got dilating drops in your eyes. Now the man in the wheelchair is mighty pissed off because the doctor has asked him not to cover his head with the blanket. “It scares us, you see. We think something‘s wrong.”

Sanjay’s not so sure. He reckons you could die in the clinic and not be noticed.

The crowd eventually thins out and they get somewhere to sit.  Sanjay’s stomach is rumbling, and so is his mum’s. Lesson Six: bring something to eat.

989041_50471101 baguette

By the time they’ve been there three and three-quarter hours, Sanjay’s mother has had her visual fields tested and her corneal thickness measured, and her pupils look as wide as a dead cat’s. She’s also gone into the inner sanctum, where the consultant sits at a desk in front of a large cutaway diagram of an eye. This is worrying. Shouldn’t the doctor know what eyes looks like by now?

The medical verdict is not too bad. Mrs Shah’s eye pressure is fine today, and her cataracts don’t need doing yet.

Unlike a patient leaning on the front desk. There’s only one receptionist left, and this patient is pleading with her to expedite his cataract surgery because it’s very urgent. Unfortunately, the receptionist tells him he’s only on the routine waiting list.

By the time Sanjay and his mother leave, there’s just one man left in the waiting-room. Maybe it’s Philip Nutmeg.

1221586_15421511 nice eye

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Are You Ready to Venture Outside the Box?

Meet a cast of characters you’ll never forget:

A woman accused of killing her tyrannical father.

A young woman fleeing from the shadow of her infamous mother.

A bereaved biographer who goes to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of a celebrity artist.

A gifted musician forced by injury to stop playing the piano.

A prima ballerina who turns to prostitution to support her daughter.

A journalist who must choose between an easy life and a bumpy road that could lead to happiness.

The wife of a drug lord who tries to relinquish her lust for blood to raise a respectable son.

And here’s the best bit: you can get to know them all without leaving your warm and cosy home.

Apologies for the advert. I don’t normally have a whole post about a book, but I can’t resist because I’m so proud to be part of this project. In fact, grinning from ear to ear.  Women-Writing-Women-Box-Set-Cover_finalJPEG (1)Besides, it’s much more than one book. Outside the Box: Women Writing Women brings all these unlikely heroines together in a limited edition box-set of seven novels. It’ll be published in e-book format on February 20 and available for just 90 days.

Why mention it today? Because you can pre-order it from Amazon now (other outlets to follow).

Some have seen the anthology already. Dan Holloway, columnist for the Guardian books pages and publisher, says

The authors of these books are at the forefront of a strong cohort of ground-breaking, boundary-pushing women writing and self-publishing literary fiction. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.”

The project is the brain-child of Jessica Bell, Australian novelist, singer/songwriter and Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal. There’s no one genre in this set. Each full-length book is a page-turner. 

Blue Mercy by Orna Ross

OrnaWill you identify with mother or with daughter? When Mercy Mulcahy was 40 years old, she was accused of killing her tyrannical father. Now, at the end of her life, she has written a book about what really happened that fateful night of Christmas Eve 1989 – and she desperately needs her daughter to read it.

Orna Ross is founder-director of The Alliance of Independent Authors. The Bookseller calls her one of the 100 most influential people in publishing.

Crazy for Trying by Joni Rodgers

joniIn 1970s Montana, a female voice on the radio is unheard of, but seeking to escape the shadow of her infamous mother – a radical lesbian poet who is larger than life, even in death – bookish Tulsa Bitters heads west, determined to reinvent herself as a late-night DJ.

Joni Rodgers lives in Houston, Texas and is the New York Times bestselling author/co-author of over a dozen books, including book club favourite Bald in the Land of Big Hair.

My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris

RozIf you were somebody’s past life, what echoes would you leave in their soul? Could they be the answers you need now? When concert pianist Carol is forced by injury to stop playing, she fears her life may be over. Enter her soul-mate Andreq. Is he her future incarnation or a psychological figment? And can he help her discover how to live now?

As a ghost-writer, Roz Morris sold over four million books writing the novels of other people. She is a writers’ mentor and a radio show host, and teaches writing masterclasses for The Guardian newspaper.

The Centauress by Kathleen Jones

KathleenBereaved biographer Alex Forbes goes to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of celebrity artist Zenobia de Braganza and finds herself at the centre of a family conflict over a disputed inheritance. She discovers a mutilated photograph, stolen letters and a story of indeterminate gender, passion and betrayal. But can she believe what she is being told?

Kathleen Jones is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. She is best known for her award-winning biographies, and has also written extensively for the BBC.

An Unchoreographed Life by Jane Davis

JaneBallerina Alison Brabbage turns to prostitution when pregnancy and motherhood forced her into retirement. Struggling from day-to-day, the ultimatums she sets herself slip by. But there is one time-bomb she can’t ignore. Her daughter Belinda is growing up. Soon she will be able to work out who Alison is – and what she does for a living.

Jane Davis won the Daily Mail Award for her first novel, which secured her a publishing contract. She has now gone on to self-publish four other novels and isn’t afraid to tackle the trickiest subjects.

White Lady by Jessica Bell

JessicaSonia Shâd, the wife of Melbourne’s leading drug lord, yearns for sharp objects and blood. But now that she’s separated from her husband and rehabilitating herself as a “normal” mother and mathematics teacher, it’s time to stop dreaming about slicing people’s throats and raise a respectable son. Easier said than done. Especially when she discovers her husband is back in town.

Jessica Bell is an Australian novelist, poet, singer/ songwriter /guitarist who lives in Athens, Greece. She is Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and author of the bestselling Writing in a Nutshell series. 

One Night at the Jacaranda by Carol Cooper

Carol CooperOn a hope-fuelled night in London, lives intersect as a motley group of singletons meet in their quest for someone special. Undercover journalist Harriet is after a by-line, not a boyfriend, but soon she has to choose between the comfortable life she knows and a bumpy road that might lead to happiness.  

Me, you already know. I’ve only produced this one novel so far, so I’m honoured to have it included in such stellar company.

There’s more about the books, the authors, and the swag on Outside the Box: Women Writing Women.

Happy reading!

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Related post :

Self-Published Authors, eh? What Are They LIKE?

Easy tweet:

“7 genre-busting ‪#‎novels in a limited edition box-set OUTSIDE THE BOX. Avail just 90 days! http://goo.gl/D1fyqW #WomenWritingWomen”

 

An Epiphany

Twelfth Night looms and Harriet cannot wait for all traces of Christmas to be gone.  

Christmas tree

Simon packs every single decoration off the tree into its rightful place in its box. Only he knows where this is, so all Harriet can do is make tea. It’s Lapsang Souchong, brewed in a pot because he always says it tastes better that way.

Freelance journalist Harriet is a character from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda.

On the first day of Christmas, Simon gave her a cashmere and silk jumper, but it’s not nearly as soft as Pushkin was.  

Pushkin

On the second day of Christmas, they had turkey drumsticks and leftover roast potatoes which, Simon reminded her, had not been as crisp on the day as they could have been. 

Of course they weren’t. The heart went out of Christmas several years ago.

The tree survived well, but that was because there was no Pushkin to climb its branches or bat the baubles off.

“It’s just ailurophobia” she’d told Simon at first.  But it wasn’t fear of cats.  His breathing was really bad, beyond the help of inhalers, pills and sprays, and there was a tissue permanently attached to his nose.  She tried products to keep down fur and dander, to no avail.  It would have to be the RSPCA or the Mayhew Home. What alternative was there?

It was December 18. Simon got the cat basket out of the cupboard and Pushkin promptly fled under the bed. 

“He’s gone into the bedroom!” cried Simon. “Now I’ll be wheezing all night.”

“Well, he won’t be here much longer, will he?” Harriet retorted.

Pushkin emerged warily, though not warily enough.

“Grab him, Harriet.  I’d rather not touch him.”

Harriet picked him up and kissed the soft places behind his ears.  It was too awful to let him go. “It’s raining,” she pointed out.  “Pushkin hates rain.”

“Put a towel over the basket if you’re so concerned.” 

cat basket

The car was parked two streets away.  Simon went to get it, but he drew the line at driving to the shelter.  “I’d rather not spend the next hour sitting a foot away from him.”

Harriet lugged the basket downstairs and into the car.  As Simon got out of the driver’s side, he warned, “Don’t bottle now, Harriet.”  He may as well have added it was only a cat.

Harriet negotiated the traffic out of London.  She thought the RSPCA place off the A1(M) would be best, as there’d be more chance of finding him a suitable home in a rural area.  Plus with a shelter that far she’d be less tempted to rush back and adopt Pushkin herself.

She got stuck in a fierce bottle-neck on the A41, trapped between a bus and a Chelsea tractor surely bound for Brent Cross. When she finally moved off, a van driver nearly clipped the wing of the Peugeot.

Harriet had transferred the basket to the passenger seat.  Pushkin yowled and stared at her through the grating with huge eyes.

“Come on, big boy,” she said, her voice catching.  “Everything’s going to be fine.” 

Her words failed to reassure a stressed Pushkin, and the car filled with an unmistakeable aroma.  Fresh dog turds occasionally smell of coffee grounds. Cat shit, on the other hand, only ever smells of one thing.

Harriet wept openly on arrival.  The kindness of the RSPCA staff only made things worse.

“My partner’s allergic to cats,” Harriet explained. 

“Has the cat had any health problems?” the girl asked.

“Well, he has a slight irritable bowel.”  What kind of luck was it to have a fastidious boyfriend and a cat with loose motions? 

Tears streaming, she left Pushkin and a large donation and returned to the car with the empty basket.  

The potatoes had been soggy and the turkey tasteless ever since.  

roast potatoes

As the last bauble goes into the box, Harriet thinks of this year’s Christmas message from the Queen and its theme of reconciliation.  She wonders whether it can ever apply to them.

***

Twelfth Night marks the end of Christmas for many people, but in the Eastern Orthodox Church Christmas isn’t until January 7. That means there’s still time to enjoy the Christmas Party Blog Hop devised by Helen Hollick. My own contribution is below, and you’ll find about 25 other bloggers taking part too.

2014-ChristmasPartyBlogHop