Boob job

NO MORE BOOB JOBS ON THE NHS!” scream some of today’s headlines. “We should not be doing cosmetic work on the NHS,” says Britain’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. With the next election less than a year away, that’s possibly a popular statement to make to voters. But what if the context of such a statement isn’t as black and white as presented? 

Mention ‘NHS’ and ‘cosmetic surgery’ in one sentence, and middle England will undoubtedly be reminded of tabloid stories like this, this and this, about nobodies ‑ with agents ‑ who had cosmetic procedures courtesy of the British taxpayer and seem to have sought fame on the back of it. For a politician to pick up on the public sentiments is a clever move to garner popularity, but let’s not look at this from an entirely cynical frame of mind: the taxpayer-funded NHS is dreadfully expensive, and we need to look at what medical care we want it to cover and what not. Cosmetic surgery is a subject we therefore need to discuss and I, for one, appreciate a politician listening to people and responding to people’s concerns.

Cosmetic surgery is certainly on my mind when I walk outside in the lovely weather we’re currently enjoying, and I see people with plenty of flesh on display, showcasing their piercings, tattoos, stretched earlobes and other visible body modifications. Then I can’t help but wonder if in years to come there will be an increased demand for surgery and other treatments to ‘undo’ previous modifications, and whether the NHS (read: the British tax payer) will be able to provide this or if people are going to be told to seek private medical care at their own expense. I believe we should think and plan ahead now rather than later and do so for the long term rather than merely till the next elections. But I also believe we shouldn’t fall for tabloid-style rhetoric in which issues and possible solutions are presented in black and white, when reality is more likely to involve varying shades of grey.

This is where I’ll get personal. You see, I’ve had cosmetic surgery on the NHS.

For as long as I can remember I’d always had a small but visible spot on my right breast. On the nipple, to be exact. When that suddenly started growing into an uncomfortable lump, and a second spot ‑ about the size of a birthmark ‑ appeared, I decided to see my GP about it. She was confident that both the lump and the spot were probably benign, yet she did order to have them removed, ‘just in case,’ but also because apparently sometimes perfectly benign tumours can become malignant. Since removing the two tumours might disfigure my breast, she referred me to a cosmetic surgeon. This decision was purely for aesthetic reasons. It wasn’t until I actually met with the surgeon, that I learned that there was more at stake than just looks: nerves, glands and milk ducts might get damaged in the operation.

In the end, I was operated on by a different surgeon than the one I’d initially been referred to ‑ there was a waiting list and a slot had opened up in the other surgeon’s schedule ‑ and that cosmetic surgeon decided in the operating room to leave the small new spot be and just remove the larger tumour that caused me discomfort. This left me with minimal scarring at the time and now, five years on, you can’t even see that I was ever operated on.

The biopsy later confirmed that the tumour had indeed been benign, so does that make my operation indeed one hundred percent ‘cosmetic’? Should I have been turned down for surgery on the NHS and been told to save up and pay for it myself?

Strangely, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s remarks have come at a time that the small spot that appeared five years ago, has just started growing. It is no longer the size of a birth mark and may end up growing into a tumour like the previous one, that gets itchy and painful and causes the other discomforts that its predecessor did. So what do I do?

If I could afford to go private, I wouldn’t even be asking this question. But I happen to be fully reliant on the NHS here. Do I deserve for taxpayers ‑ of which I am one myself ‑ to pay for a cosmetic surgeon to remove this growing-but-probably-benign-again tumour from my breast and hopefully do so (again) without scarring or disfiguring my breast? Or should I wait until it develops into something more sinister than it appears to be right now?

What would you do if you were (a) me; (b) Health Secretary; or (c) a UK taxpayer? See how this isn’t a plain black-and-white issue?

© 2014 Jo Hughes | All rights reserved


Letting a bully be

Welcome to my latest masterclass in cowardice. This one’s called: going public without actually going public. Unfortunately I speak from no authority whatsoever other than personal experience, so there won’t be any graduation or award ceremony to look forward to at the end of this piece.

Life is unfair and sometimes a bully wins. Sort of. I hate admitting that, but I love life and this is just an unpleasant speck on my rose-tinted glasses that I am having to wipe off. (It will be yours to guess whether I’m wiping it with a fancy wet wipe or a mere tissue and a bit of my spit.)

I would be lying if I told you that I never took even the slightest hint of enjoyment out of exposing online BS’ers and other charlatans. I don’t regret pointing out BS as and when I’ve seen it, and I will probably do it again. But on this particular occasion, I’ll leave the exposing to others, because I cannot afford to take the risk on this particular BS’er blighting my life recently.

Like most of you, I have to work harder and harder every day to make ends meet, and I can’t afford anything or anyone jeopardising my livelihood, even if it is with seemingly hollow threats and baseless accusations. A bully may renege on his claims that he’s a lawyer, police and interest groups may throw out his complaints, but that doesn’t stop his ability to bully. I still have bills to pay and therefore no time spare to spend on said bully’s dented ego nor can I afford any attempts of his to influence my life, work and reputation.

My big mouth tries to mask the coward that I really am. I’ve never claimed otherwise. Thankfully others are braver than me, and they will undoubtedly take this BS’er down; I just don’t fancy ending up as collateral damage in that process. I am keeping hold of all the manipulative and insinuating messages sent to me away from public view and, for now at least, I won’t make them public until or unless I have no other choice but to or if I have nothing to lose anymore.

Feel free to disagree with me, or to call me a daft cow or whatever for this, I can handle that, and rest assured that merely disagreeing with me or even calling me names won’t result me in labelling you a sexist or misogynist or even crying ‘hate crime!’ just because you said it to or about me and I happen to be a woman.

Thick skin. Water off a duck’s back. Now those are claims to make about yourself that don’t require paper credentials. (As for everything else, people whose credentials are public and checkable may appear more credible than people who anxiously hide theirs and/or have been proven to have misrepresented themselves… just an observation.)

My final thought: try honesty. It may not make heaps of money but it is generally speaking a more sustainable way of life, albeit a tough one where you work all hours to make ends meet. The vast majority of people live it and it works for them. Please respect that, always.

Please stop defecating on people’s names just because you don’t like what they say or do. Please don’t lunge attacks at people for pointing out your own misrepresentations.

Just because some (myself included) can’t afford to hit back at you, doesn’t make it alright to hit out at them in the first place, especially when you are the one acting with deliberate dishonesty and disingenuousness to begin with.

Lesson learnt the not-so-hard way

“Caught in the act – texting while driving. Police gave me a massive fine. Now I’m broke and it’s my own stupid fault.”

The above is an adapted quote from one of the most powerful social media updates I have read in ages. The original post was shared among friends only so I won’t actually link you to the source. Even so, I think the person who had the cojones to share this about themselves online is awesome for using social media in this way.

Why? Because it reminded me of something that happened to me around eleven or twelve years ago, which I’d hereby like to share publicly. I was on the telephone with someone who was driving, on their way to me. Then, as I looked out the window and saw them pull up the driveway, he very nearly hit a lady with a pram. He hit the breaks just in time. Just.

While I may not have been the person behind the wheel that day, I felt and still feel very guilty about what happened. As the person distracting the driver, I was equally guilty. Whether or not they were holding the phone or speaking to me hands-free is irrelevant. Nothing, really nothing was that important that we should have put ourselves and others at risk the way we did. Whatever it was we were talking about on the telephone, I don’t remember, but I am absolutely certain it could have waited. We could have waited and then we would have had all the time in the world to discuss whatever it was we wanted to discuss without putting anyone at risk. So very nearly we hurt someone and they would have been very badly hurt and that would have been our fault.

The memory still haunts me, and the person putting up the status update from which I quoted above brought it all right back to me. And I am so grateful they did, because without them I wouldn’t have posted this.

They got a massive fine, I got a massive shock. No one got hurt. But the point is: worse things could have happened, due to our behaviour. We each had a choice and each made the wrong one. We were and are blessed that that’s the worst that happened, considering the horrors we could have caused.

Perhaps the most powerful use of social media is exactly this, holding your hands up in the virtual world and admitting you’re a real human being. Nothing photoshopped or polished.

“Hey everyone, I screwed up. Big time. But I learned my lesson. And I’m sharing it with you in the hope that you will take notice and like me will learn from this, thus preventing this – and worse! – from ever happening to you, me, or anyone else for that matter.”

To the person who inspired this post: You rock. Big time.

Safety net, leg up

A few years ago, on a number of occasions, suddenly people who I didn’t even know stood up to help me at times of personal crisis. To date I don’t know what I’d done without them, I truly feel they were life savers.

These good Samaritans, as I like to call them, taught me important life lessons too; it wasn’t that they taught me to give to others, because I knew how to do that and I did, it was that they managed to show me how to give to others without compromising on themselves and in ways that don’t fully provide for others but – better still – provided a safety net and a leg up, no more than that.

The best way for me to pay people back is to pay this forward by offering others a safety net and a leg up as and when I can. It’s a no-brainer I wish I’d figured out sooner.

At age 38 I’ve also – finally! – learned that I cannot solve other people’s problems nor make miracles happen. One of my landlord’s tenants – let’s call him Ahmed (not his actual name) – has severe issues with alcohol and drugs. (Note: my landlord is one of the people who I consider one of my life savers.) I cannot solve his issues or take away his demons but I do appear to be one of very few people who can at least on many occasions calm him down to a point where he doesn’t pose a nuisance or threat to others – such as the other tenants/neighbours – or to himself. But I also accept that I can only be there to help him if and when he reaches out for it because he wants to be helped. And I can provide support in a way that doesn’t compromise me or anyone else.

For anyone reading this who has little or no experience with addiction: think of the nicest, most personable person you know, and trust me when I tell you that if he or she were to fall victim to addiction to any mind-altering substance(s) (such as alcohol or drugs), he or she will turn into an a-hole. Apologies for the expletive but there is no friendlier way of saying it. Substance abuse turns the greatest human beings into a-holes, period.

Ahmed was forced to go cold turkey a while ago, when his welfare benefits were stopped. The landlord showed leniency allowing him to fall behind on his rent, we paid his utilities and got him food until we got him registered with the food bank. He had no means of inebriating himself. It made him very sick for a while but he got medical attention when needed, and then, for a moment, clean, sober and personal Ahmed returned.

It didn’t last. As soon as his state welfare benefits were restored a couple of weeks ago, he went back on the binge and back to being the a-hole addict. It is bordering on impossible to get someone in his situation the appropriate mental health care; people like Ahmed tend to become nuisance neighbours and recurring problems for police and emergency services to deal with.

They will get inebriated to the point where they cause problems, to say the least, get picked up by police or ambulance, taken to a police cell or hospital ward and less than 24 hours later, when they’ve sobered up, they are labelled “no longer a threat to themselves or others”, and they’re out on the street again until they get inebriated again, give cause to get picked up again, and so on and so forth.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for the cops and EMTs out here to attend the same locations, the same people again and again because there is no appropriate follow-up to their work, but forget about the UK headlines of late about lying or otherwise dodgy officers, your everyday frontline street cops and paramedics do a [bleep]ing phenomenal job that I can not speak highly enough of. Seriously, I wish there were two IPCCs rather than one: besides the Independent Police Complaints Commission there should be something like an Independent Police Compliments/Commendations Commission. The same goes for ambulance personnel and other emergency services. “We the people” should really do more to get these people the recognition they deserve, because right now I don’t think they’re getting that.

Back now to Ahmed. Yesterday he hit rock bottom and phoned 999, stating he had a knife and threatening to kill himself with it. Out came the emergency ‘cavalry’ of police, rapid response units and ambulance, full well knowing that he might pose a danger to them as much as himself, but turning up and stepping in regardless.

He was taken to hospital, his home was made safe. When later on he managed to slip out of hospital again, he was searched for and found, and returned to the hospital. He called me late at night asking for me to come and pick him up. I convinced him to stay.

Some time after midnight the hospital phoned me asking me to come and pick him up to take him home. He had been medically examined and had had his psychological evaluation (colloquial: psych eval), and they had no medical grounds to keep him in the hospital. Thankfully I managed to convince them to at least keep him in the ward for the night, promising to come and pick him up this morning.

When I arrived this morning all that was left for me to collect were some of Ahmed’s belongings. Ahmed himself had already disappeared again. Hospital staff helped me search for him but we failed. There is only so much we can do.

As hard and cold as this may appear, all we can do now is to wait and see if and when he turns up again, which he will, sooner or later, and by then he will probably be under the influence of mind-altering substances. The cycle will repeat itself until he is truly ready to surrender himself, because there is no way for me or anyone else to get him sectioned under the Mental Health Act or otherwise detained for his own safety and recovery.

It’s not a situation I am particularly happy with, and I would love to see the system changed, but for now I am at peace with the idea that there is nothing more I or anyone else can do right now. I don’t feel bad, stressed or guilty about that anymore. I’ll reach out again as and when I have to, and I know others will, too. Safety net, leg up, remember?

Naturally I will write to ministers and MPs and find other ways to contact whichever powers that be to urge changes to (mental) health services and procedures to stop these repeat cycles that Ahmed and many other people currently move around in, because the current system clearly isn’t helping anyone and burdening many. Perhaps this blog post is a start.

Shamelessly self-indulgent blog post

Excuse the self indulgence, here, but… have a look:

Based on my online bio and the photo series from PH Positive Studio made earlier this year, Fiverr seller Pablo drew a portrait of me in South Park style. I love it! (=understatement)

If you would like a similar portrait of yourself click here to submit your order on Fiverr.