Archive | 10:56

Saturation Point

21 May

SATs are taking place at the moment in primary schools up and down the country.   Actually, that’s not strictly accurate: some headteachers have banded together and banned them.  I used to think they were a good idea but I don’t anymore: they don’t take into account a child’s personal level of achievement, just how well they can sit tests.  I have helped out in a Key Stage 2 class every year for the past four years and I know that the children are not learning so much as learning how to pass exams.  It’s not the teachers’ fault: they have to teach the children to the SATs requirements.  In my school, the teachers do rather well, tying in projects to the theme; I imagine it’s the same in most primaries.  But the teachers hate it because the children have to be so focused on tests that they come to loathe learning.

If it was up to me, I would pare down the National Curriculum to its essentials: reading, writing, arithmetic.  Let them do those three things properly and then we won’t have whole generations of children leaving school unable to read and write or multiply in their head.  Amazing fact: it is much easier to learn new stuff in high school if you first learned to read in primary school.  

Apart from anything else, it’s the stress we are loading on our children: Spud was a mess before his SATs.  One day, he couldn’t go to the park straight from school because he forgot to take his phone, so he couldn’t call me to ask if he could go straight from school; when he got home he decided to go up on his bike.  We then had a long argy-bargy about his phone, which he was not allowed to leave in his jacket on the floor while he played football in case it got stolen, and which he didn’t want to keep on his person in case he fell over and smashed it, football being a contact sport with the hardest grass in the world, apparently.  Tiring of his prima donna performance, I sent him into the garden to lock up his bike because he was no longer allowed to go to the park.  Five minutes later I walked into the kitchen to see my last-born strolling nonchalantly in front of the house.  It seems he had scaled our six-foot fence and dropped to the pavement in an effort to scare the heebeejeebies out of me as a punishment for punishing him.  He got off lightly because I was so angry I sent him to his bedroom before I could wallop the heebeejeebies out of him.  Initially, I was going to make him stay in there forever, but the Hub got me to compromise once I had calmed down, and Spud was told he could come out of his room when he was in a better mood, because that way he set the terms of his own punishment.  He came down about a half hour later, bearing a handmade card on which ‘I’m sorry’ had been written in every available space, and, inevitably, ‘I’m sorry for being a brat.’  Then we had a long, long cuddle with much tickling, and we both felt better.  Until he had a tantrum about mince & chips vs cheese & chips which resulted in an ultimatum: Hub told Spud he could lay over his father’s knee face-down and have a good hiding, or he could lay over his father’s knee face-up and have a good tickling.  He opted for face-up and we never had a naughty peep out of him again that night.

Happy days, when every problem could be solved by a tickle.  Apart from appendicitis, that is.  The first day of his SATs, Spud felt anxious but was looking forward to his free breakfast.  The school provided free breakfasts all week to ensure that the children performed at their best.  They offered cereal, toast, fruit, bacon butties and sausage butties.  Naturally, Spud preferred to have breakfast at school that week.  Monday, anyway: he didn’t get the chance again.  He had to write his science exam in the staff toilet.  He was feeling unwell on the Monday morning and the teachers jollied him along through the day.  They kept a bin handy in the afternoon, and it was just as well.   Once he’d been sick, they put a table in the staff toilet and the Head sat with him, door open, so that he could run to the toilet when he needed to.  He was sick five times.  As soon as the exam was over, the school called us.  He was copiously sick all Monday night, falling asleep about ten, and then waking early to start again.  We decided to fall back on Plan B: the Head and another teacher (to observe her and ensure there was no cheating) were to come here, so that Spud could sit his exams at home between throwups.  He was to take all three exams in the afternoon.  

I had made an appointment for him to see the doctor on Thursday, because this was two vomiting sessions in two weeks, and about the ninth in six months.  I had taken him to see a doctor once already; he couldn’t find anything wrong and said Spud had just been unlucky that year, catching everything that was going round.  I had made notes of what he had eaten but each meal was different, so there was no common trigger.  He had some dry toast about seven-thirty on Tuesday morning, but couldn’t keep it or his drinks down.  Around ten-thirty he complained of a pain in his chest, which I put down to wind as he had nothing in his tummy.  It quickly spread to the whole of his tummy, especially his right side.  He got into bed with the Hub for comfort. Hub voiced what I was thinking, and got me to look up ‘appendix’ on the net.  The NHS Direct site must have been spying on us, because it had word-for-word what Spud was going through.  I phoned my doctor for advice, and she said to get him to A+E immediately. 

We were at Stepping Hill for 11h45 and the board said it was a 2 ½ hour wait, which was worrying, but unavoidable.  Just shows how little faith we had in the NHS – by 12h15 Spud had been triaged, admitted, and given pain relief.  He had been seen by two nurses, a doctor, and a surgeon.  Another half an hour and he was up on the children’s ward.  Another surgeon saw him, and then the first surgeon came back and inserted the cannula himself, because the nurses qualified to do it were all busy, and he wanted to ensure the blood tests were done asap.  There was quite a long wait after all that activity but Spud was given pain relief, so it wasn’t too dreadful for him.  He went for his operation at seven-fifteen that night.  We accompanied him to surgery, but only one parent was allowed in while anaesthetic was administered, so Spud chose the Hub.  Just as well, really, because I was ready to break down by this point, and I knew Hub wouldn’t.  Spud was worried that whoever he chose, the other’s feeling would be hurt – how sweet, when he must have been feeling so miserable.  We assured him there’s enough love to go round and all that mattered was that he felt happy. 

A kindly nurse grabbed my hand and rubbed my back when I had a little weep – out of Spud’s sight – and the Hub came out about ten minutes later.  The anaesthetist had told Spud to concentrate when counting backwards, and he concentrated so hard, it was apparently the longest he’d known a child to last before succumbing to oblivion.  I then went back to the ward for something to eat (I was starving!  I’d had nothing for twelve hours and I wasn’t the one who couldn’t keep anything down), and the Hub went home to collect pyjamas and stuff for me.  He was fit to collapse by this stage, but he had promised Spud he would be there when he woke up, and he never reneges on a promise.

Getting food was a bitter struggle.  As doctors and nurses were in and out all day, dribbling information, neither of us would risk leaving Spud’s bedside in case we missed something, and it wasn’t until five-thirty that we knew he’d be operated on at seven-thirty.  There is a parent’s room in the Treehouse (Stepping Hill’s children’s ward, which is actually four wards; Spud was in Rainforest Ward), so I was able to grab a cup of tea at least.  No hot drinks were allowed on the ward at all, however, so the Hub didn’t get one because he didn’t have the energy to walk all the way round to the parent’s room.  I did get him a cold drink from a machine that stole my change, and that had to do him.

As I was going to be the one staying overnight, the Hub insisted I went down to the restaurant, which had just closed when I got there, naturally, as had the WRVS station.  I had to leave the hospital and walk over to Sainsbury’s for something, so I was gone about forty-five minutes and of course, that was when the surgeon came to give us details about Spud’s op and I missed it all.  Still, I had a very tasty lasagne to heat up in the microwave later.  Cloudy linings and all that.

The Hub got back about ten minutes before we were called to the recovery room.  Spud was disoriented and woozy but glad to see us.  Once he was in bed, hooked up to a drip and antibiotics, the Hub was able to go home and I settled down for some much-needed sleep, having been assured that Spud would probably sleep through the night as he had been given morphine, etc.  Fold-up metal beds are provided next to each hospital bed so I didn’t have to leave him.  Which was just as well, because he woke up about every thirty minutes and at midnight was brightly telling me all about his op, or the bits fore and aft that he could remember.  Apparently, reacting like a cannabis muncher is a normal side-effect of the anaesthetic.

A wonderful Scots nurse called Margaret – the only person ever to detect from my accent that I had once lived in Wallasey – checked on him through the night, even finding out, after his 3a.m. query, whether his stitches were dissolvable or not (they were).  He thought she was wonderful, and was sad that he never saw her again, as her time off coincided with the rest of his stay.  Between us, Spud and I only got about three hours sleep that night, which was okay for him because he caught up next day, but left me, who didn’t, feeling totally drained.

Wednesday, he couldn’t bear to be left alone, and he was unsurprisingly niggly.  We played board games and card games; I read to him when he didn’t feel like reading himself; and the play staff brought a PS2 and a tv/video to his bedside.   He complained that he wanted visitors, and no sooner had the words left his mouth than my friend Alison arrived, with puzzle books galore.  She was parked where she shouldn’t, so it was a brief visit, but Tory Boy arrived as she was leaving.  He had come the previous day bearing gifts for Spud – a Sponge Bob Nudie Pants poster and a chocolate chicken – and he squeezed in a visit between exam revision sessions the next day.  Fortunately, his college is fairly close to the hospital.  He was amazingly helpful and uncomplaining about taking on Spud’s (and some of my) chores, and at being virtually abandoned for three days.

And then Helen (t’vicar) appeared; she reckons a dog collar is very useful sometimes, as it gets her into the places other collars cannot reach.  All three stayed only briefly, but they cheered up Spud.  To be fair, he was an excellent patient, just bored.

The Hub came in the afternoon, having struggled to sleep the night before, and then waking at six and staying awake to phone to see how Spud was.  Once he knew he was okay, he got four solid hours, and then cooked me some sausage butties for my dinner.   He also brought the toothpaste I’d forgotten to put on Tuesday’s list, and it was then I understood why Spud’s visitors had left so quickly.  I grabbed a shower and my food and many cups of tea while the Hub stayed with Spud.  He and I got a better night’s sleep on Wednesday, apart from being woken seven or eight times because of the comings and goings of nurses, doctors and patients…I never knew hospitals were so noisy at night!  No wonder they drug the patients.

On Thursday, Spud had recovered so well and had been such a good patient that they let him go home once he had walked around a bit and had a bath.  We got home about three, and he was tired but glad to be in his own bed.  His wound healed well and he has the neatest scar.  The hospital staff complimented him on being a model patient, for he had no complaints and a ‘thank you’ for every horrible medicine.  The doctors said his appendix was inflamed but they got it nice and early.  People complain about the NHS, but we had as good an experience as you can have when your son’s insides are being ripped out by strangers.  The info on the NHS Direct site was specific; the receptionist at our doctor’s put me through to a doctor as soon as I mentioned suspected appendicitis; the doctor was right to tell me to take him straight to A+E; we didn’t hang about in A+E, and he was up on the ward within an hour of being admitted; all of the staff (including office) in the Treehouse were as helpful, kind and friendly as could be; the wards were spotless; the staff regularly washed their hands or used the hand stuff on the ward, to avoid MRSA, and firmly encouraged parents to use it also.

I only have good things to say, apart from complaining about the dreadful food, which appalled me.   I guess schools are so concerned with healthy eating that I expected the hospitals would be too.  They’ve got a looooong way to go.  And there was nothing for parents staying on the ward, of course, except toast or cereal at breakfast, but back to that cloudy lining – I lost 2lbs in three days.  I’ve put twenty on since then; maybe I could do with having my own appendix out.

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