A Wet and Wild Weekend on the West Coast

The forecast was for rain and wind so we were prepared with snow chains, tow ropes, food, 2 thermoses and extra clothes.  Early Friday afternoon we headed off in a westerly direction. The weather here in Christchurch was a little gloomy with the promise of much-needed rain. Somewhere through Arthur’s Pass we met the rain – but no snow or high winds so the chains and other equipment happily stayed in the back of the vehicle.

The rain increased as we neared our west coast destination – a chalet in an isolated spot somewhere between Greymouth and Punakaiki.  And it increased even more, as it would, being the west coast of NZ, when we arrived at our chalet.  There was a large puddle at the bottom of the steps making the entrance rather hazardous, not to mention the buckets of water let loose from above. I made a dash for the indoors while hubby, Jim, took the umbrella and proceeded to unload our bags. Ten minutes later he is standing in a welcome hot shower – his rain-drenched clothes in a pile on the floor!

A further ten minutes and I have a warm and dry hubby playing cards and enjoying a drink and nibbles before tea. And, although it’s only 5pm, it is dark outside – that is, until a lightning bolt attracts our attention, followed by the rumble of thunder not far away. A second or third lightning bolt lit the sky and the accompanying thunder was so loud it shook the chalet. Having experienced many earthquakes over the past few years, this was not dissimilar – with the addition of a massive boom!

Saturday morning arrived bright and sunny. “Check the tide times to see if it’s worth going up to the Pancake Rocks.” We have seen these a few times and, unless the tide was high, we thought we’d drive south to Hokitika instead of north to Punakaiki.

“Wow! It’s high at 10.45 – let’s go!” No debate here. With the seas raging after last night’s thunderstorm there was bound to be an awesome display!

We weren’t disappointed – the best display of blowholes and surge pools we’ve seen. Altho_MG_6540ugh it wasn’t raining Jim thought he’d be wise to wear a raincoat… mmm, he was right!

Wise man in his raincoat!

He avoided a second “wetting” though it was only

First time we’ve actually seen droplets of water coming out of the blowhole.

spray from the massive blowhole.

We enjoyed a coffee at the local cafe then headed south, calling in at a beach on the way to take some photos of the powerful waves at high tide.

Lunchtime at Greymouth… “Let’s eat on the breakwater and watch the waves.” Another photo opportunity… and another soaking … or two!

“Jim, stand over there and I’ll get a photo of you with a wave breaking behind you…” That wasn’t too bad – just a few salty drops to brush off…

Look closely and you may be able to see the water droplets heading directly for me! Those little dots in the sky and on the rocks…

Lunch eaten and cleared away; Jim relaxing with his book; time to take a few more photos… “I’ll get close-up of a wave breaking in front of me…”

Well, I hardly had time to focus the camera and …”Wooooo… I’m drenched!!” I didn’t see that coming… salt water all over me… I wonder if I got that photo?

I wanted a photo like this – only closer…

Time for me to change… right down to my underwear! I had packed a couple of towels in case we got to swim in the hot tub at the chalet (we didn’t), so pulled one of these out, dried myself as best I could, then Jim held the towel so I could change discreetly (we weren’t the only sight-seers!)

Next stop – The West Coast Treetop Walk, south of Hokitika. I had bought a couple of vouchers for this as it seemed a great thing to do while we were in the area. It wasn’t until I actually stepped off terra firma and on to to metal walkway that I suddenly remembered “I don’t like  heights!”

But I’ll just back-track a little to the path leading up to the start of the walkway… As Jim does, he was “inspecting” some posts loosely driven into the stoney ground on the edge of the path. He stood on some loose gravel that formed a sort-of step on the edge of this path and I heard a cry and turned to see him lying very precariously on the edge of a bank – probably a 30 metre bank. That could have been serious – no one else in sight, no cellphone coverage, I’m still not 100% recovered from my recent hospital visit… However, the man picked himself up, blamed the loose stones and carried on…

Now, back to my fear of heights… I had paid for this visit, I wasn’t going to back out now so onward and upward I went. It really wasn’t too bad… in fact, the views of the alps, snow-covered too,  were amazing. I just avoided looking down as much as possible as I repeated over and over, “I do not have a spirit of fear…” To be among the tall miro, matai, totara, rimu and kahikatea and to hear the birds calling was sure worth overcoming any apprehensions I had. And then, to cap it off, I made myself climb the 40 metre (250 steps, I think) tower.

A rather nervous smile!

My biggest fear on the way up was an earthquake… but Jim assured me that we would be in the safest place if that happened (sure, bud!!) Actually, the cantilevered path I found more disconcerting but I conquered that as well – but Jim had to take the photos!

Treetops tower.

Night in a motel and on Sunday morning we set out to explore Hokitika.  First stop, “Let’s go to the beach to see the waves…” I am forever hopeful that I will capture that “perfect” shot.

Well, it was not far from high tide. There was debris strewn over the road and the end of “Sunset Point” was barricaded off as waves were still crashing over.  We ventured on to the beach littered in driftwood and logs. Such a violent sea… so many photos… “Come and take one from this angle”. Jim is getting into the swing of things… “Watch out! Run!!” A wave surges up the beach and nearly gives his feet another dousing!

The wave that nearly got him!

And then the rain returns, so we head into town to do some “touristy” things.  David, at the museum, is very absorbing and enthusiastic and persuades us to part with $6 each and venture in – a visit well-worth the time and cost. We run out of time to continue our explorations but decide we’ll visit again and tick the boxes we weren’t able to this time.

Home is about 4 hours away … I am not looking forward to what I know will be waiting for us…  You see, we have this elusive leaking roof (well, the leak is elusive) and I know there has been a considerable fall of rain in Christchurch (much needed) while we’ve been enjoying our weekend escape… and I forgot to put the bowl under said leak…

Road to Recovery – a journal of personal experience 9

Oh, the joy of being home!  Our deck was complete so I could sit on our new deck chairs (well, one of them!) and soak up the sun and the view.   IMG_6519Being Easter Weekend, Jim was home to care for me – this meant 24/7 care! He needed to follow me up the seven steps to the toilet and lead the way back down – every hour on the hour as I was still regaining bladder control. He had to “stand guard” in the shower to ensure I didn’t slip and then dry me and help clothe me.  He prepared meals and cleaned up afterwards. He brought me a hot drink in the middle of the night if I couldn’t sleep and walked ever so slowly with me for the prescribed ten minutes each day.  He didn’t utter one word of frustration during any “fuzzy brain” episodes but encouraged me to rest and enjoy the view (probably so he could also rest and read!)

After three nights sleeping downstairs I decided I wanted to sleep in my room in the “loft” – so much brighter and with clothes on hand. Jim built a platform to fit into the sunken shower/bath so I didn’t need to return to the guest bathroom and the shower stool downstairs.

In the following five weeks I have had friends and family come to stay and visit who cooked and cleaned and took me for walks – mostly along the nearby Sumner Esplanade. Initially, I wasn’t able to stand or concentrate for long enough to even prepare or cook a meal. I often didn’t sleep well at night but found it easy to fall asleep for an hour or so during my rest time through the day. As my brain cleared of drugs I was able to finish reading my book and reply to emails.

Which reminds me of my first text replies I sent while still in hospital… When Jim eventually brought me my cell phone I thought I’d check any texts and messages.  There weren’t many but one, in particular, I thought I should reply to – but my fingers couldn’t find the right keys. I became quite frustrated and just hit the “Send” button anyway.  The reply, not surprisingly,…. “Huh??”

The weeks, as they tend to do, have since flown by. I am now doing most household tasks; my “brain fuzz” has cleared and I am gaining strength. I still get tired but do manage to sleep okay most nights. I have watched so many episodes of Downton Abbey (one or two a day) that I feel I am part of the Crawley family! I have looked into my family heritage but that becomes frustrating with many “road blocks”(not a unique problem!).  Now that I will very soon have finished this blog I must decide what to concentrate on writing next while I am still in recuperation.

I have had explanations of what caused my extra stay in hospital and into “the land of Nod” but none are totally satisfying.  I do recall being greeted with, as a new nurse or staff member came to discuss my case, “You’ve certainly been on a journey, but you’re looking quite well now.” Food for thought as I questioned each speaker on the specifics of my “journey”!

However, that is history. I came through my journey with the help of much prayer and an ever-faithful God and I now look forward to returning to my previous life-style with more energy and passion than I was capable of three months ago. I am ever so grateful to friends, family and hospital staff and the medical profession. I may never know exactly why my operation wasn’t the straight-forward procedure I was prepared for but I do know that it was a great God who brought me through it!

Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience 8

Before I had my operation and subsequent “adventure” I was leading an active life. I played tennis twice a week and walked a brisk half hour other days. If you have read my “Restoration 101” blog you will know that I have spent many hours restoring our home -painting and assisting my builder-hubby in many and varied tasks. I keep my mind occupied by writing, playing cards, reading and doing word and number puzzles. I have always eaten a healthy diet and rarely get more than a common cold. I visit my GP maybe three times a year and any time I have spent in hospital has been visiting others. I lead an enjoyable social life with family and friends but am also content in my own company.  In other words, I believe I am a balanced person with a healthy attitude to life and a deep faith in God and His goodness. So I am not a person who should suffer from a 1 in 400 congenital heart valve defect!

However, the fact remains – I am! It is not an uncommon defect and there are many folk out there who have conditions many times more serious. And I am so thankful for our health system and the  wonders of modern science. Above all I am thankful to a God who cares and answers prayer. Why I went through such a traumatic time I cannot confirm, but I do believe that it was a mighty God responding to the prayers of many saints who brought me out of the dark hole into which my body plunged.

But let’s return to Ward 10 at Christchurch Public Hospital… I could now take myself to the toilet without the aid of a walking frame; I was receiving visitors, some of whom walked “the loop” with me (without a frame); I still needed assistance to shower; I had a couple of “accidents” until I realised I had little control over my bladder (friends and nursing staff were very generous with their help and understanding!). A novel sat beside my bed along with patience playing cards and a magazine opened at the puzzle page. Why couldn’t I pick up the book to read? Why did I deal out the cards and forget how to play the game? Why could I only fill in one word at a time in a crossword puzzle?

It took me a while to realise that my mind was going to take some time to recover from the cocktail of drugs.  Someone suggested that I might be discharged from hospital on Friday morning – Good Friday. This day came closer and closer every hour and by Wednesday I was ready to believe it was actually Friday. I was not able to sleep at night or during the compulsory rest time from 1 to 3pm each day. I’m sure this didn’t help my recovery so on Wednesday morning I almost pleaded with my surgeon’s registrar to let me go home so I could at least get some sleep… “How can I begin the healing process if I can’t sleep?” (My mind was sorting some logic!) Her response was, “Yes, well, my boss would actually agree with you. I’ll see what I can do.”

My major challenge was to be able to climb a flight of 11 stairs unassisted. I called on prayer support and by sheer determination achieved this goal – one slow step at a a time.  And by mid-afternoon I was released for “overnight leave.” In other words, I wasn’t discharged and needed to report back to my bed at 7.30 the next morning. But, oh the joy of a home-cooked meal (well, a small portion of it!), a comfy bed and a warm and welcoming hubby!

It took many hours to finally receive my discharge the following day but eventually I could begin the third stage of my journey – full recovery at my pace in my home.  This is another chapter which is continuing today.  I have many friends and family members to thank for their support but because I have already exceeded my self-imposed 600-word limit today I will add one further blog tomorrow as I am sure there is more …

Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience 7

Time to rejoice… I made it out of ICU!

As each specialist came to check on me to ensure I was fit enough to move along I smiled sweetly and implored with my eyes. It seemed to take forever for the porter to arrive to wheel me to my next station. I understand that all the checks and tests and weights and measures were for my protection and to ensure, as much as possible, that I didn’t arrive back in ICU, but my brain, full of such a cocktail of drugs, wasn’t allowing me to comprehend that info at the time.

Hubby Jim came to the Cardiothoracic ward with me as he happened to be visiting at the time. It’s not often he’s embarrassed but I managed to do that on my arrival by talking loudly to other patients and interrupting their visitors.  Gosh, I was so excited to be in a regular ward with a view  (of a courtyard) – a window with sun streaming in!

Once again, the staff were wonderful and ensured I was comfortable with everything I needed (including that darned oxygen!). Over the next three days I learned to walk again, shower, toilet myself and generally begin to function as normal.

Walking began with a frame and the first steps were very tentative as my legs were like jelly. First goal was to be able to get to the door of the ward and back again. Next step was shuffling to the main corridor.  I was really making progress when I could walk “the loop”; and final stages were walking “the loop” without the frame and climbing an 11-step flight of stairs and back down.

There is no dignity when one can’t fend for oneself and is reliant on others to help one shower.  But for the Occupational Therapists and nursing staff this is their working life, so one must accept the indignities.  And I didn’t really mind, as to have a shower and wash my hair was such a refreshing experience after 11 days I didn’t care who was helping! In fact, my daughter has pointed out that I rang her after my first shower and told her, in a very loud voice, that I had had a shower and now had clean hair. And I announced this to her and all others who could hear at least twice!

And then there was my “naughty” episode… In the middle of one night, when I was still attached to a catheter,  I decided I really wanted to go to the toilet. Now, in my “sane” mind I knew that this wasn’t necessary, but no matter how many times this was pointed out to me I was uncomfortable (due to fluid-losing pills) and determined to go to the toilet. When staff were distracted with another patient (that was a bad night with several disturbances) I climbed out of bed, grabbed my walking frame and made my way to the toilet. My plan came unstuck when my legs were not strong enough to lift me off the toilet. I fell! I landed on my derriere with a thud which brought staff running and severely bruised my tailbone! I didn’t realise at the time that my catheter had popped out which could have caused even more problems.  Back in bed, feeling quite reprimanded, I was given a bright red “bracelet” which said “Ask if I need help.” But the catheter remained out – yay!

I have learned that, when the body is filled with so many drugs, it is not just the body that takes time to recover… but more of that in my next and final blog tomorrow.

Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience 6

As I said, time passes slowly when all one can do is watch the world, or in my case, the medical and hospital staff, go by.  Night time was especially long as I wasn’t able to sleep well.  By now I was beginning to feel the stiffness and pain in my chest that remains to a small degree even now, 6 weeks later. I have never slept on my back but I had no choice with the aforementioned drains and tubes inserted in my body. I lay in a semi-upright position and hoped for some kind soul to pay me enough attention to pop some ice into my mouth. I was a particular “pain” one night when the music my son had given me wouldn’t work; I was hungry and thirsty and really totally at the mercy of others. I wanted to cry in frustration but couldn’t; I wanted someone to come and talk to me but who could I call on in the middle of the night? This was the one time when I remember my night nurse “growling” at me. I must have asked for breakfast too many times because I recall her saying to me, “It’s only 5 o’clock, breakfast won’t be here for another 3 hours.  Now go to sleep!” I apologised to her the next night and she brushed it off – they must be used to patients coming out of sedation… !

The following day, or shortly after, I was moved further down the ward and my bed turned around so I could look out the window and truly watch the world go by. I still had trouble figuring out just where I was and, although I know that area of town well, my orientation was still partly in “la-la land”.

After a day or so of consciousness in ICU the only tubes I had left was the oxygen support going directly into my nostrils.  I found this most uncomfortable and, at every opportunity, took it out.  Naturally, any staff member, or in fact, visitor who noticed I had removed it, would come along and pop it back in. Gosh, I now feel quite embarrassed by my “naughty” behaviour!

And soon enough came the first steps towards independence and rehabilitation. Bed pans are terrible to use, both for the patient and the staff, but necessary. However, the sooner a patient can progress from the bed to a “toileting” chair, the better. This meant being assisted off the bed and onto the chair and when one has been confined to reclining on a bed for 10 days or so, this is not a simple task! But the staff, as I have mentioned before, were amazing and patient and I managed, on two consecutive days, with much help, to toilet and bathe out of my bed. I could see the “patient toilet” from my bed and I remember looking with longing at that door and almost willing myself to go there!

After what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only 4 or 5 days, Sunday morning arrived with wonderful news… I was going to Ward 10 (Cardiothoracic ward) today! Another exciting step in my recovery…

Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience 5

Waking up from heavily-induced sedation is an odd sensation. One’s mind is saying one thing, one’s body is not able to respond as the mind requests and there seems to be many out-of-control events happening all around.

My daughter mentioned something about purple hair… “Mum, I think you should dye your hair purple once you’re out of here.” She’s not sure now why she suggested this (was it to scare me into waking me up?) but I agreed and actually looked forward to it.  …

There is purple in there – second time round!

“And we could run a marathon, too…” Now that I didn’t agree to as I may be physically active but running has never been a passion.

My son’s advice was to rest and take it easy and let nature run its course with the able help of the doctors and nurses. I don’t consider myself an impatient person but now I was awake I just wanted to get out of wherever I was and go home.  I recall the handsome young doctor mentioned previously coming to me and asking if I knew where I was. I actually had little idea – probably said “St George’s” (the hospital where I had the operation).  Another time I think I also said “ICU” but had no idea which hospital. My mind clearly was rather ‘addled’! Somewhere in the course of things I also learned that my son & daughter-in-law had been to our house and done some gardening – removed some old grasses and re-planted an area I had looked forward to transforming.  I desperately wanted to see this and my “dreams” now included my “new” garden.

Other milestones I looked forward to were the removal, one-by-one, of the various tubes and drains entering and exiting my body.  As each one was removed I was given a token explanation and my reaction each time was that I was one step closer to going home and seeing my garden!

My reformed garden – a massive improvement and the plants will grow!

Once the tubes were removed from my mouth I needed a drink. Coffee sounded good but was not an option – in fact, there was no option as I was carrying 8kgs of excess fluid which needed to go! So, because my mouth was dry I was offered small portions of ice.  My son and hubby got a small bucket of this from a machine and could now place one or two pieces in my mouth at a time.  Brad said “Just say ‘ice’ and we’ll pop some in your mouth.” My favourite word over the next few days anytime someone was close at hand was “Ice…ice!” Oh, that tasted like nectar, just to crush my teeth on something cold and wet! Unfortunately, my yearning for “Ice…ice” was curtailed as I had to limit my liquid intake in order to expel the excess 8kgs from my body.

And then there was the addition of solid food into my diet – oh, mashed potato has never tasted so good!  The diced pork that followed got stuck in my teeth and my angelic, ever-patient nurse did her best to clean my teeth for me – I couldn’t even control my hand to brush my own!

Time moves very slowly when one can’t even read, especially through the night hours… but more about that next time…

Road to Recovery – a diary of personal experience 4

After eight days of sedation I left those dreams behind.  I remember thinking “When is a nurse going to shine a light in my eyes and say, ‘Judy, wake up… Judy, Judy, can you hear me? You can wake up now.’?”

(Of course, what exactly happened next and the words spoken I cannot recount accurately…)

When I saw the light I was so pleased to respond and come out of the “Land of Nod”. I heard another voice (a male one this time) saying, “Audrey, squeeze my hand… Audrey, can you squeeze my hand?” I thought I was but it must have been so weak the owner of the voice didn’t feel it. And my daughter responded by saying, “She’s called Judy! She’ll jump out of bed and bop you one if you call her Audrey!” (Audrey is my first name on legal/official documents but has never been a name I have been addressed by.)

And then what did I see when I managed to open my eyes? My daughter standing toward the end of my bed with  beautiful smile on her face. “Hello, Mum. You can wake up now. I love you….. Look! she opened her eyes…. she’s smiling at me!” Oh, what a wonderful sight she was! I heard other voices – my son’s amongst them, and I could feel his hand in mine.

Again someone said, “Audrey, can you hear me? Squeeze my hand.”

“She’s not Audrey, she’s Judy!”  This was repeated so many times over the next few days – even after some handsome young doctor thought to write in big, bold letters ‘Judy’ across the top of my notes.

My daughter, Kyla, had flown down from Palmerston North to be with me. Just an overnight trip, so it was wonderful for her to be there when I awoke.  She had kept an account of my progress on Facebook and asked for prayers along the way. I am so grateful to all the folk who responded so thoughtfully and with prayers.

I could feel several tubes and goodness-knows-what entering and exiting my body and I have to say, I hated the feeling! I obviously couldn’t see behind me but each of the tubes was, naturally, connected to a machine of some sort. Each machine was beeping and blinking away and there was a nurse seated behind a desk at the foot of my bed watching each machine “blink” and “beep” and noting changes and progress on a computer. I wondered what she was doing and why such careful attention to just me. I had never been in this situation before – in fact, I had only been in hospitals to visit others or to deliver my own babies. Definitely a strange new world in which I was helpless to do anything but lie still and observe.