Why a blog?

Like all new bloggers, the question that you ask yourself and others will then ask you is, ‘why a blog?’

I had thought about doing it some time back but thought it was complicated and I would not be tech savvy enough. Thanks to sites like the one I use, WordPress, it’s nowhere near as complicated as I expected. If I can do it anybody can. To answer the question at the head of this post, I have had a nightmare couple of years and it might help me and others sharing a similar experience to discuss it and work through the emotional feelings that it has left me with.

So in order to do so let’s go back a bit further, to 2002 in fact. Back then, I was living in the North Wales coastal town of Colwyn Bay and had been since 1976. Dad had taken over the parish and had worked until 1993 when he retired. When we first moved to Colwyn Bay I had 2 years left at school. In fact my parents told me that’s the main reason we moved. They thought jobs would be easier to find in Colwyn Bay than they would have been in Blaenau. My parents asked me not long after moving if I wanted to change from being a boarder at Ysgol Gogarth to being a day pupil. Having been at the school for a decade with friends there too I decided to stay put. In 2002, I had a message too telling me that my old school, Ysgol Gogarth, Llandudno was going to be 40 years old. I heard from an ex pupil called Shan Owens asking if I was going to the planned reunion. I said yes and we would all meet up there.

On the day of the event I traveled with a friend called Hywel Wyn Williams who had known me since our childhood.

We were amazed how many pupils and staff were there at the event. We saw Shan, who was there with her Mum and her partner. We chatted about old times and what we were doing now. Then Shan’s Mum Gill dropped a bombshell. She told me, ‘You know Shan had always fancied you don’t you?’ I can only imagine what Shan’s then partner thought. We all slightly laughed it off as I was 6 years older than Shan and therefore had little to do with her at school. She said that she hardly knew I existed until 1976 when I went around the classrooms after being chosen as head boy. By the end of the day we all swapped phone numbers saying, like you do, we would keep in touch. There was even mention of an Ex Pupils and staff association being created. Shan and I did keep in touch.

In 2006 I went through one of the saddest days of my life. I lost my Mum. She had been unwell for a short time and died in hospital from pneumonia. I had shared a flat with my parents since 1981 and after losing my Dad suddenly from a stroke in 1995 Mum and I looked after each other. The flat was slightly adapted but when I ended my time there I struggled to complete daily tasks on my own. As I have mentioned before, I have been an independent so and so all my life. This led to my thinking of asking for help as so kind of failure. As the weeks passed after Mum’s death I had to think what to do for the best. I had a chat with the couple who lived in the flat above me and they said they would be interested in buying my flat and converting the building back into a family house. We did the paperwork and soon it was time for me to move out on my own.

In 2007, Shan invited me to come to visit her at her home in Bilston near Wolverhampton.

She had moved there when she met and then married her husband Steve. They had met at a sports event they were both competing at in Devon. Then in 1990 they had a daughter.

So, I traveled to Bilston in the suburbs of Wolverhampton one Saturday morning. I was not that used to motorway driving and had borrowed a satnav for the journey.

At this time I had a lightweight wheelchair which was florescent orange and sat on the passenger seat next to me. When I pulled up outside Shan’s flat her daughter Katie opened the door and on seeing me putting my chair together said ‘cool’. We had a pleasant afternoon and we decided that I would come and visit again. By the end of that second visit we knew we enjoyed spending time together and so we decided to see how things went.

After visiting most Saturdays for a while we became a couple. I then had a decision to make. Long distance relationship or move. Shan had Katie to think about so she had to remain in Bilston. I handed in my notice at work and sold my flat and headed to live in England.

Things were not always easy. I was used to my life back in Wales I was a chapel elder, a member of a sports club, I was a huge fan of my local football club and never missed a home game at Llanelian Rd. Plus I am a proud bi-lingual Welshman and wasn’t sure how my Welsh language would be affected as it is a large part of who I am. Thankfully, we settled into a routine. I found that the local hospital had a radio station and I applied to become a volunteer. I then found to my surprise that Wolverhampton had a Welsh Chapel and has had for nearly 150 years. This made me feel less home sick. I had Radio Cymru and S4C to give me my Welsh time which Shan and Katie could understand.

A couple of years into the relationship I had a very rough patch which later we found was caused by the death of my Mum. I had a period of counseling and CBT which helped put me back on the straight and narrow. This period could easily have split Shan and I up but she stuck by me which shows how strong she was as she had already gone through a divorce, something I will be eternally grateful for. We worked things out and our relationship became stronger. On August 8th 2009 we got married at Wolverhampton register office with family and friends to celebrate with us. My cousin, Sian and my now Stepdaughter Kate were our witnesses.

In 2016 Shan began telling me that I didn’t look well. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong and like a typical bloke carried on stubornly with my day to day life.

On March 31,the day before Easter 2017, Shan and I were getting ready to go out. She noticed a really bad sore on the base of my back. It was a trip to A+E straight away. I was seen by several doctors and taken on to a ward. I had a grade 4 pressure sore on my sacrum, a body part I had not heard of before that day. By now I have a great deal of knowledge of it. It was badly infected.

As a paraplegic I had very limited feeling below the waist and it had developed because of that. The fact that it was close to the spine can’t have helped either.

I was to face the longest and hardest battle of my life. It is this battle that’s the foundation of my blog. When we discussed my condition on that first day in New Cross Hospital I was told by my consultant, Mr Singh Ranger, that it was a nasty pressure sore, in fact grade 4 is as nasty as it gets. He thought it was possible to sort it given time and treatment. A number of the nursing staff on ward A14 told me they had seen some with deeper wounds recover but some had not.

That question of time was the hardest thing to face. The surgical team and nursing staff said all pressure sores heal differently. This is due to the fact everyone’s skin is made up differently. The Tissue Viability Nurse who saw the wound on day 2 warned they had no idea of time scale. So a period of dressing changes, theatre sessions to debride and clean the wound and the use of a vac machine to basically Hoover up the rubbish in my wound took place backed up by a high protein diet from the dietetics department. It went on for week after week.

Throughout it all my wife Shan was my rock, along with Kate my Stepdaughter and my cousin Sian they slowly got me through some very dark days. I can only imagine how those dark days affected Shan.

I found out later, that Shan had not slept on many nights and due to the stress had even started smoking again. If it helped her cope then fine. Even if I am a lifelong non smoker. I had been in New Cross hospital for 3 months before I was allowed home. A care plan had been put in place which meant I would be cared for by a care company and the team of district nurses from Bilston. The nurses were brilliant but very soon we found that the care company were not. We decided to carry on with them and did so for a few months to see if things would improve. Things for our family then took an unexpected turn.

Shan started getting periods when her bowel made her unwell. We would call the ambulance and they would admit her for a few days at New Cross hospital to treat her and she would return home . This happened a number of times and as the admissions continued the consultant put her on a special diet which for a few months worked really well. Then unexpectedly she had another bowel problem and was admitted.

The following morning she had surgery which lasted several hours and then she was sent ICU. The following day she became very poorly and died with Kate and her Partner Laura at her side. The sense of guilt for not being able to be there and loss of my soulmate has been so hard to bear. Kate has been unbelievable. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to help me through it. We have tried to share our loss and it has brought us closer together.

At Shan’s funeral we both spoke and there were smiles and tears as we remembered a very special woman. I wanted everyone there to realize that we were present because we loved Shan as a Mother, Daughter, Sister, Aunty, and a friend. Several people have told me they left the service knowing Shan a little better than they did before. We are now making progress as Shan would want us to do. I am now in the rehab stage of my recovery, with 10% of my wound left to heal. The one thing this period in my life has taught me is that with the help of those who love you anything can be faced. My late father told his parishioners more than once that you will never be given a load you can’t carry, because if you turn to him God will share the load with you. I really believe it’s true. And when the load becomes too much to bear he will take you to him where you will suffer no more.

Who is Huw

When I was born, on August 12 1960, I was the only child of my parents living in a small village on the Lleyn Peninsula of North Wales called Efailnewydd. They had moved there after my father, Rev. Thomas John Griffith (known to many as TJ), had been made Minister of the Presbyterian chapels of Efailnewydd, Rhydyclafdy and Llanor. A bit of a culture shock for them as they were both working in Manchester when they met, fell in love and got engaged. My father was Minister of the Welsh Chapels in Altincham and Warrington and Mum, Ann Elizabeth Williams, was the matron of the school for deaf children in the city. It could have all been very different though. My father had been offered a 3 year stay in Melbourne looking after the Welsh chapel there but his father was taken Ill and later died. I can’t imagine me being an Aussie.

When Dad was in Manchester he had a health scare himself when he had a stomach ulcer and had major surgery to remove a portion of it, it was recommended after by his surgeon that a less hectic parish would benefit him. Efailnewydd, Rhydyclafdy and Llanor definitely fitted the bill.

When I was born, it was found that I had a spinal cord malformation called Spina Bifida. This means that the spinal cord does not knit together properly in the womb and in the gap that’s left a small cyst grows. This cyst stops the nerve signals going to the lower limbs in some cases and can also affect bladder and or bowel control. Back in 1960, the place for treatment in the UK was the children’s hospital at Alder Hey. They had a team there led by an Austrian Neuro surgeon called Professor Richam. Therefore, I was transferred from St David’s hospital, Bangor over to Liverpool. I was then operated on to remove the cyst and close up the damage to my back.

As is the case with many babies born with Spina Bifida, they can also have a condition called Hydrocephalus. This is a raised pressure caused by fluid forming within the space between the brain and the skull. In order to reduce this pressure a procedure was carried out. A valve was placed within the cavity with a pipe to the abdomen to drain away the fluid and reducing the pressure.

This valve was known as a SpizHalter valve. Named after a surgeon from a children’s hospital in Cincinnati and a local engineer who had lost a child to the condition. Thankfully, all went well. Shortly after, they found that the position of my cyst meant I had paralysis in my right leg and also bladder weakness. This meant that I had to have corrective surgery on my right leg. This was done by an orthopedic surgeon called Mr Dwyer.

For those who remember a drama series called ‘Hadleigh’ in the 70’s, Hadleigh’s wife was played by Mr Dwyer’s daughter, Hilary. My earliest claim to fame. My parents told me years later that when Mr Dwyer used to come on the ward he would check his handy work and say, ‘you’ve got lovely legs’. Not sure he would say that now! In fact, I would worry if he did. One thing which worried my parents at that time was the fact I was in Liverpool and was not going to hear Welsh spoken. Luckily a couple of the nurses on the ward we’re Welsh. From what I have been told I was a happy baby as long as I was fed! Something that happens still to be true. In fact, when I cried for food on the ward one of the nurses used to say, ‘Your steak isn’t ready yet Dai’.

After 9 months as an honourary Scouser I was considered well enough to be sent home. This was going to be a huge life changing experience for my family but my Mum’s nursing background and Dad’s Christian faith were something they both fell back on many times in the time we lived in Efailnewydd. In fact, before I headed home for the first time rumours were rife in the village. People were saying that the minister’s son was very poorly and wouldn’t live very long. What was most surprising was the fact that the rumours were being spread by a retired district nurse. Thankfully, I was recovering well but had my legs in a a double plaster which made me heavy to carry.

So, my home life started and like many disabled children back then you were the centre of attention. I think that throughout history societies large and small have always been wary of difference. Something the political difference s brought about by Brexit have made crystal clear since 2016. We seem to expect to be surrounded by a group of like-minded people and if we aren’t we worry.

When my first Easter arrived I had dozens of Easter Eggs. It’s a wonder I didn’t become diabetic. The family sent some to the hospital in Pwllheli, the nearest town. It’s hard to believe that back in 1960 my Dad didn’t have a car. Something all clergymen would consider essential today. If he needed to travel out of the area someone I knew as Uncle Dick Galltberen leant him a big black car.

We were only to stay in Efailnewydd for 4 years before Dad was offered a new parish. When he had been in college he told his fellow students that he had been to a town called Blaenau Ffestiniog the previous Sunday to preach. He said it was dark and depressing and he was not in a hurry to return. It was ironic therefore that he married my Mum, who was born and brought up there, and Blaenau was the new parish on offer. After a lot of conversations with my Mum and others he went to see the place properly and took another service there before deciding we would give it a try. Part of the thinking was my education. Which I will discuss later.

I loved Blaenau, we lived there 12 years and my roots are there. I am now nearly 60 and left aged 16 and still consider Blaenau home. The people are friendly. There seemed to be no class structure in towns society. If you had any airs and grace’s you wouldn’t last long there. People knew each other and cared for those in their neighbourhood. Something which is not as common today more’s the pity. When we lived in Efailnewydd our home was a small house next to an amazing couple. Who I referred to as Uncle Harris and Aunty Hughes as I couldn’t say her first name. They were so helpful to my parents. They would take me next door when my Mum needed to do certain things around the house As they had a TV I got to see Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben, Pinky and Perky a the Wooden Tops. When we moved to Blaenau we lived in a house with a large garden and the house even had a third floor which housed an attic. It was built for the manager of a quarry that produced efailnewydd, Blaenau and it’s people along with my family are the answer to the question at the beginning of this post ‘Who is Huw?