Today is a rather special day here in Luz, but I didn’t twig it first off, so let me start my story a different way.
It was a fine Autumn day in the Algarve. The sky was cloudless. There was a mild breeze. The temperature was 28°C in the shade, at 4pm. Basically, it was the equivalent of a fine Summer day in England.
Years ago, I and my better half would visit Portugal and Spain for precisely this type of weather. We would hire a villa with a pool in early May or late September, typically for 3 weeks. The early date was to celebrate a birthday and the late date was to celebrate our anniversary. We would sunbathe during the day, though I tend to crisp, meaning I had to seek some dapple for protection. The number of books we got through and the number of games of backgammon, boules and Scrabble we played were considerable.
And the pool. The villa owners were always perplexed when we asked if it would be warm enough to swim. In early May and late September, those accustomed to the weather here avoid unheated pools. Those are to be used at the height of a blistering summer.
Then around 6pm in the afternoon it would time to go indoors, have a shower, get changed and think about which restaurant we should dine at in the evening, al fresco of course.
Today is a rather special day as it happens to be our 20th wedding anniversary. The traditional present, it seems, is china.
Are we celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary in this fine September weather as per our Portuguese traditions? A swim, some sunbathing, perhaps a book to read on our Kindle, and we have the full kit for backgammon, boules and Scrabble, plus we have built up a fair choice of decent restaurants, mostly not in Luz as it happens.
No, none of the above.
To understand this, I need to go back 6 years or more. My spouse had been having serious back pain for years, diagnosed as crumbling vertebrae. Treatment options include injections of strong pain-killers, and we went down this route for years. Our medical insurance company, BUPA, was getting shirty about paying for these continually, so we were ducking in and out of the NHS and BUPA. Things finally progressed to the stage where this was not a viable option.
In one of the bleakest, snow bound winters, it was time to go for the alternative, a major operation. This puts metal supports around the crumbling vertebrae, and requires going in through the back to access the spine, but also going in from the front to access the frontal section of the spine. On top of this a bone graft is taken from the leg and connected to the vertebrae, to get regrowth of bone on the crumbled parts. So, all in all, it is a daunting prospect at any time, let alone at our age.
The story does not stop there. My spouse contracted MRSA during the operation, and quickly became seriously ill. Fortunately BUPA staffed this unit with doctors 24×7, and in the middle of the night, the doctor on duty decided that waiting for lab confirmation was not the way to go, and started administering doses of wide-range antibiotics. This action almost certainly made the difference between dying and living.
Shortly thereafter, there was a bit of relief. The particular strain of MRSA that had been contracted was one that still succumbed to a specific antibiotic, and that was duly administered, proving to be effective.
Still within the bleak mid-winter, the family helped get the patient from the BUPA hospital to home, up our stairs to the guest bedroom, which then became a court for several weeks with visiting guests, while I acted as the (only) servant.
It was during this period that a son and daughter-in-law turned up to introduce us to the latest grandson, Riley. He had been born while the jury was out over whether he would ever see us as a married couple, as opposed to me on my own. So he was doubly fussed over.
Moving forward 6 years and shifting from the UK to Luz, what are we doing for our 20th anniversary?
It is a little like groundhog day. My beloved is upstairs, virtually bedridden, and I am the (only) servant. Hence the absence of swimming, backgammon, boules, Scrabble and a meal at a restaurant.
This episode started on Sunday with a visit to our daughter and son-in-law. Their latest addition, Jake, lights up upon such visits and there was a lot of bending and lifting. Whether that was the cause or not, from the next day on it was confinement to bed (boring even with wi-fi) and, of course, with me being the duty service officer.
The major problem we hit was that standard painkillers, such as paracetamol, were not touching the pain. That meant we needed something a bit stronger. Not heavy duty like morphine, but something like codeine. And here’s where we hit a recent change in Portuguese law. The chemists in Luz claim that they are not able to sell codeine without a prescription.
In the light of a recent extended discussion on Calpol, Calpol24, Calpol50 and Calpol Night on the UK Justice Forum, let me make clear that I have not checked the actual law relating to codeine. I am merely stating that the Luz chemists tell us they will not sell us codeine without a prescription.
This leads to an obvious issue. To get a prescription, one needs to be fit enough to get to a doctor in the first place, and in our instance, being bedridden ruled this out.
Fortunately, there is a local doctor in Luz we have used, called Doctor Otto. Yes, he is German, and yes he does have an interesting story, but let me stick to this adventure. He is aware of the reconstructed back operation and the issues with nerves it can cause going forward. So he was willing to write a prescription for a stronger pain-killer without physically seeing the patient.
Indeed, it was Dr Otto who enquired if morphine was the pain-killer of choice. For readers who might think this is strange, I have experienced morphine myself. About 20 years ago, there was an accident and both the bones in my lower right leg were broken. As it happened I was put into an NHS mixed ward, which frankly I found embarrassing.
In the ward, the morphine was by tablets administered every 4 hours, if I remember correctly Once taken, they quickly sent me to sleep, whether I had a visitor or not. Towards the end of the cycle, I was in major pain, anxiously awaiting the next dose. In the ward there was a man who had been in a motorcycle accident and basically had broken everything it was possible to break and to survive. He was screaming in agony long before the morphine arrived. I don’t know why they didn’t place the wretch in a side ward, but it meant nobody in the mixed ward could possibly sleep through the night.
When I got out, I was still on prescription morphine tablets, with a prescription from my own GP. I never had enough interest to enquire about the dose in hospital or the dose when I was dispatched home. I presume those for use a home were lower strength, but I can’t be certain. After one prescription, I could do without the morphine.
Anyway a family member will pick up Dr Otto’s prescription this evening and head to the chemist in Luz. Whether this produces the codeine this evening or not is still in question. The chemists in Luz often say they don’t have prescription drugs in stock, and you need to go back the next day after the medicine has been delivered to the shop to pick it up.
The moral of this tale is simple. If you have a condition that might require a pain-killer slightly stronger than paracetamol (or aspirin etc.), bring some with you if you are visiting. I intend to get some laid in as stock, as we hit this same back problem roughly once a year on average.
Is there any ray of light in this 20th anniversary wreckage? There is the tiniest of tiny glimmers.
My partner has been going to a dietician once a week for the last 6 or 8 weeks, in a determined effort to get rid of some weight, and so far has made quite good progress, shedding around a kilo per week, noticing clothes are getting baggy and drawing some compliments from friends.
One of the key suggestions made by the dietician was to remove or greatly restrict dairy products and gluten based products (wheat bread and pasta etc.). Apart from dropping weight, this has resulted in a feeling of being more healthy.
The difficulty with this is all the things that get wiped out. Black tea with milk has been replaced with green tea, and gone are cafè latte and Portuguese galão (espresso topped up with ¾ foamed milk). Since things that are calorie-rich but nutrient free, or processed are also on the naughty list., most fizzy soft drinks are out.
This cuts the good-to-go drinks to basically water, green tea and fruit juice. Whilst acting as the servant for the last 3 days, it became clear how monotonous this must be so I asked if an instant soup would be preferred. Yes, I know it almost certainly falls foul of the ban re processed foods, but confined to bed for 3 days is bad enough without putting the patient on a highly restricted diet.
So the reply was which kind of instant soup did we have, to which I responded it was the one we bought from the Dutch deli in Lagos. The offer was taken up, and the soup was found to be tasty and a welcome alternative to the usual suspects.
The drink is by Knorr, and is called Drinkbouillon Tuinkruiden. I know basically no Dutch, but every foodstuff imported into Portugal to be sold on has to have a label in Portuguese. That label describes it as a broth, soup or bouillon of spices. It looks like a clear broth with herbs in it, and there really doesn’t seem to bad ingredients in it in any quantity. I can’t check properly at the moment because night time has arrived, the writing is 4-pt, and my eyes no longer do 4-pt except under bright light.
Oh, and it is 4 kcal per portion, which makes it a gem if one is trying to lose weight.
I have never seen it on my forays into Portuguese supermarkets, and as I said, we bought it from the Dutch deli in Lagos. I presume it is a Dutch favourite and I have no idea where you would get it in the UK, outside of possibly a Dutch deli.
So a tiny, tiny sliver of sunshine in what is probably the anniversary we would most like to forget.
Oh, and out son-in-law turned up with the prescription pain-killers and a muscle relaxant medication at about 6.30pm, so hopefully things are on the up.