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Archive for August, 2012

Closing Ceremony

Posted by indigodream on 12 August, 2012

Turn up the volume, the stadium is shaking, you can feel the beat through your feet.

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What a spectacle!

Posted by indigodream on 12 August, 2012

This just gets better and better…..

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Closing ceremony, two minutes to go

Posted by indigodream on 12 August, 2012

Loud, excited . . . .

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Pre-show rehearsal

Posted by indigodream on 12 August, 2012

Being fantastically entertained by the Hackney Colliery band – we have been practising jazz hands, whoo-ing, singing and other silly things! Am really in the mood for the main event now!

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Closing ceremony

Posted by indigodream on 12 August, 2012

Right, here we are, waiting for the show to start!

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Odds Blog: Richard’s Olympic Reflections

Posted by indigodream on 12 August, 2012

Sunday 12th August

We’re just getting ready to go to the Closing Ceremony – we got tickets in the draw some month ago, little knowing that I’d be fortunate enough to work at the opening ceremony as well! It’s thrilling stuff but also a bit sad – this evening will be the end of a journey for me.

In late 2005 I attended a meeting which was to be the start of an intense period of work on the Olympic Park. In that time my team undertook the civil/structural engineering design of what we believe was the first permanent building to be funded by the Olympics; it was also the first permanent (and award winning) building to be built on the park. These have been exciting times – we have been in tunnels under the park, driven round the park as it developed, played are part in that development –  all fantastic work for a small specialist practice.

We boated round the park for as long as we could, towards the end we wore high viz jackets and hard hats! We have seen the transformation and it was stunning.

My journey has continued with being a gamesmaker. I got to attend a technical rehearsal as a gamesmaker, then another with Sue as spectators, then I was a gamesmaker for the actually opening ceremony.  Since then I have worked 6 shifts at the Olympic Stadium which have been stunning and this evening we get to see the closing ceremony.

It has been a fantastic journey. This year has had some serious “downs” but the “ups” have been so fantastic. What can possibly follow the Queens Diamond Jubilee Pageant and then the Olympics?

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Odds Blog: Sue’s Olympic Experiences (8)

Posted by indigodream on 12 August, 2012

10th  August 2012

Back in 2010, the call went out for Olympic volunteers – officially know as ‘Gamesmakers’ – it seemed like a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity so I persuaded Richard that we should both apply. The selection process is quite lengthy, so we comfortably forgot about our applications, though we did get regular “gamesmaker” emails to remind us that we were still in the process. Like many things, it seems like a great idea at the time, though we had no idea that 2012 would turn out to be so eventful!

Richard and I are both volunteers, but our journeys, and subsequent experiences have been very different – as I blogged earlier in the year…

I had assumed that my Gamesmaker journey had ended in February, but in June I was offered a role with the “Venue Management – Support Operations team” at the rowing village in Royal Holloway in near Egham (West London). I was ambivalent, because at this stage we had four greyhounds and we knew that Lou had cancer – it was a lot to take on, but I accepted the offer (slightly against my better judgement)……..

In hindsight, I should have realised that the writing was on the wall when I went to collect my uniform and accreditation pass on July 7th. There were around 400 people waiting in front of me and I had to queue for almost 2 hours – though the process of being fitted was very efficient once I got to it. Every other volunteer I’ve talked to, including Richard, said they just walked straight in and collected their kit with no wait at all!!!

At this late stage, the only training being offered was a half-day venue-specific training on 8th July. There were around 40 volunteers at the training, though they all seemed to have had a lot more information about what they were likely to be doing.  I was a bit worried about this, but I perked up after an inspirational presentation by the village manager, Miriam Luke, herself an Olympic rower and fantastically motivational. The next stage of the training was a ‘familiarisation’ walk-through the venue with our teams – except I didn’t have a team – there was no-one there from Support Operations. I was a bit disconcerted, but never mind, I did the walk-round with the Workforce Manager – at this point I was worried but interested, as the Royal Holloway has a beautiful campus and the student accommodation here is a lot more plush than I remember!

Once we’d done our walk-through, the Workforce Manager dropped me off at the Support Ops office and left me with them to find out more about my role. This did not go well – the Support Ops team were not expecting me, they thought I’d been sent to the wrong place and took some convincing that I was actually part of their team – this included scrutinising my official accreditation. Once they’d reluctantly accepted that I was meant to be with them, I then got on the wrong foot with one of the team members who expected me to sort my shifts there and then, but I had not been told that I would need my diary so I didn’t have it with me. She then dismissed me, saying that they had no time to do any training with me, or even to escort me back to Alex and the rest of the volunteers or to the exit.

I left the site feeling very despondent – I walked alone through the university’s wooded paths, looking for the shuttle bus back to Egham, enviously admiring the “transport” volunteers, who were being shown to the bus by their team leader, laughing and chatting all the way – all together now – “aaaaawww”!

I almost gave up on volunteering at that point, but decided that I should persevere – I emailed my so-called ‘team’ to arrange some shifts…

  • Friday 20th July: Funnily enough, when I arrived for my first shift, the Support Ops the team was not expecting me – they thought I’d gone to the wrong office and was looking for Workforce Check-in. I assured them that I was a support ops volunteer and, after checking my official accreditation, reluctantly accepted that I was in the right place. There was some work to be done, doing a final inspection of the athlete’s accommodation and checking that maintenance work had been completed. However, some of the blocks were occupied and the ‘staffers’ didn’t want to risk disturbing them before 9am. This meant sitting around for 2 hours with nothing to do – as I’d had to get up at 5am to arrive at 7am I wasn’t best pleased. However I did enjoy inspecting the accommodation, but there wasn’t really enough work for all of us – I left the site in the afternoon dispirited and frustrated….
  • Saturday 21st July: I was determined to be useful today, so I turned up at 7am and went straight to the Workforce Manager to ask whether I could be seconded to another team if Support Ops did not have enough work to go round; he was sympathetic but unable to offer any solutions. But today we had a proper Team Leader on duty – he, at least, welcomed me to the role and briefed myself and the other volunteer on the day’s main task – a final check-over an accommodation block that was due to be occupied that afternoon. He was the only member of the team who showed any interest in involving me as volunteer, for which I was grateful. I felt much more motivated after that and was more optimistic about future shifts.
  • Saturday 28th July:  When I arrived there were four ‘staffers’ on, but the Team Leader who had been so helpful the previous week was off. I asked about work and was told that there was none.  I asked the workforce manager whether any of the other teams needed extra people, but he thought that the whole village was quiet.  Eventually I did get the chance to check some keys in one of the blocks, and I did the washing-up for Workforce Check-in (despite them telling me it wasn’t my job – but I desperate to do something!). The Support Ops overall manager (not the team leader that I met last week) is a man of supreme rudeness – when one of the staffers asked him whether he had any work I could be doing he just said that “Sue can go home if Sue wants to”. Well, for one thing, Sue is sitting here right in front of you AND Sue doesn’t want to go home, Sue wants to be useful, having made a big effort to get here,and, incidentally, Sue has missed  the chance of a cruise to Barking Creek in order to fulfil this obligation!!!! I left at 9am – seething!

I was due to go back on Sunday 29th, but the thought of it made me feel sick so I resigned! I was alternatively disappointed and furious and gladly gave my feedback to the Team Leader that had had been so kind during my second shift. It turns out that he lives just round the corner from me, so we got together for an informal chat later – there seems to have been an endemic lack of training, organisation, leadership and guidance for the volunteers in the Support Ops team.

I doubt whether they’ll ever read this blog, but I am grateful to two of the volunteers that I met during my shifts – Fiona and Gareth, who’d been with the team for longer and really helped me to feel more involved.

So, what was my outstanding contribution to the comfort of the athletes?

  • During my first shift I did a final look over an accommodation block – each kitchen was fitted with 8 mugs and 5 spoons – except some only had 3 spoons, and one kitchen only had 1 – we informed housekeeping immediately!
  • During my second shift, we did a final snagging visit of another accommodation block – in some of the kitchens, not all of the fridges had been ‘de-branded’ – we had to take this seriously – any electrical appliances that had not been manufactured by an official sponsor had to have the brand name covered with masking tape! Now I understand that the sponsors have paid mind-boggling amounts of money for the privilege, but the de-branding of appliances that only the athletes would see did seem a bit silly!

Being a ‘teaspoon monitor’ did tickle my sense of the absurd, but I actually enjoyed walking round and inspecting the accommodation – I do appreciate attention to detail. When I worked for Tesco, they used to say that if a customer had a bad experience and made a complaint, they’d need 10 good experiences to overcome it. So who knows, maybe averting a complaint about lack of teaspoons may have helped to develop and maintain goodwill amongst the rowers!

On that basis, I suppose I should have given the team 10 opportunities to welcome me properly as a volunteer – but my time is too precious – after all, if I’m to do nothing I’d rather be doing it at home 🙂

Although I’ve had less than inspiring experience as a volunteer, I do not regret applying, or having a go at making it work. Richard has had a fantastic time as a volunteer, as have others I’ve spoken to.

If we apply to be volunteers at Rio then I’ll just have to make  sure that I apply for a job at the stadium – it’s obviously the place to be – and we have got 4 years to learn the lingo!

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Dog Blog: Living with canine cancer (5)

Posted by indigodream on 10 August, 2012

Friday 10th August 2012

I got the results of Lou’s latest tests this morning – there is some VERY GOOD news – the big patch of inflammation at the back of her throat is NOT cancer – despite the vets telling me that it couldn’t possibly be malignant, I confess that I didn’t quite believe them.

The vet says that the test confirm that Lou, basically, had the equivalent of a huge mouth ulcer at the back of her throat – he feels that it is manageable but the question is “how”….

They did culture some MRSA – not a huge bacterial load, but it may just be enough to prevent healing. The other factor co consider is the dose of her steroids – she’s been on quite a high dose to reduce inflammation, but now we may need to reduce the dose in case the steroid is contributing to the ulceration and poor healing. But it may not be possible to withdraw the steroid completely – it is a VITAL part of her chemotherapy.

It is a bit confusing, the MRSA in her throat is, in vitro (lit. ‘in glass’ i.e. in the laboratory), resistant to everything apart from a group of antibiotics called Tetracyclines; but the vets, generally, don’t rate them as antibiotic because they are bacteristatic (slow/prevent bacterial growth) as opposed to bactericidal (kill bacteria).

So our vet has decided to stick with an antibiotic called Veraflox (pradofloxacin) – the MRSA is resistant to this in vitro, but he thinks that it will work in vivo (i.e. in life) because its one of the antibiotics that worked before. But it’s not – the antibiotic that finally knocked the last bout of MRSA on the head was Duphatrim (to which the MRSA in her foot was sensitive in vitro). I took this up with Lou’s vet (I bet he’s glad he’s going on holiday!) but he came back with the backwards argument that as the current MRSA was also resistant to Duphatrim in vitro he’s prefer to stick with the Veraflox. To be honest, I’m a more than a bit sceptical about his reasoning but I’ll go with it for now – even though Veraflox costs an eye-watering amount of money….

It’s very strange, but I’m not whooping with joy, yet I should be – good news has been hard to come by recently. But I think I’ve got so used to bad news that I don’t know quite how to ‘lift’ myself – I will have to practice!

I’m not a fan of complementary therapies – I think that there is not enough proper scientific evidence of their efficacy/safety and I believe that the anecdotal evidence tends to over-report the benefits and under-estimate the harms. However I do respect the people who have suggested carious remedies – I know that you’re trying to help us through a difficult time. I take suggestions seriously but I am a pharmacist so I use my access to medical databases (though not necessarily veterinary medicine) to investigate the available evidence base for complementary therapies – particularly herbal remedies, that can interact significantly with conventional therapies.

So, here are  my brief findings on  two remedies that have been suggested:

Manuka Honey to ease Lou’s throat and help to fight infection – interesting to note that the NHS does not recommend using honey bought over-the-counter for home wound healing – it needs to be medical grade, which has been highly purified. Nonetheless I will use my home-made honey linctus as it will at least be soothing and won’t be in contact with Lou’s throat for a very long time – unlike honey applied to open wounds: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2011/04April/Pages/manuka-honey-mrsa-superbug-bacteria.aspx4

Devil’s Claw to ease Lou’s arthritis/muscle pain: I have looked this up, but most of the articles that I found were member/subscriber only so I can’t link to them – though there is this letter to the BMJ. However I will not be using Devil’s Claw for Lou – there is some evidence to show that it affects liver enzymes so might interact with other drugs that are metabolised by the liver. Devil’s claw may als0 exacerbate gastrointestinal bleeding if taken with non-steroidal or steroidal drugs (they increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding just by themselves). Lou is on such a cocktail for her chemotherapy I daren’t risk an interaction on top of all her other problems….

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Odds blog: Olympic experiences – a different sort of boating!

Posted by indigodream on 9 August, 2012

Rewind to Monday 30th July

View “upstream” at the Lee Valley White Water Centre…

We were so excited today – we were to attend our first ever Olympic sporting event as paid up spectators! Doubly exciting was the fact that the only sports tickets we got were for the white water slalom at the purpose-built Lee Valley White Water centre. This is up in the Lee Valley Country Park adjacent to the Lee Navigation between Waltham Abbey and Cheshunt – one of our favourite mooring spots.

Of course, mooring is restricted on that stretch for the duration of the games, but we did have an ambitious plan to take Indigo Dream up there and moor just ‘upstream’ of the restrictions at Cheshunt. Richard actually booked our passage as soon as we got confirmation of the tickets – back in September 2011. Despite our chasing them, we only got confirmation of our passage on the 27th July – much too late for us to actually make the transit. We were extremely frustrated by this, but that’s for another post….

The Olympic tickets came with a “Zone 1 – 9” travelcard which covered our entire trip from home to the venue – this was an added bonus and was worth half the ticket price! So we took the train to Cheshunt – we got seats all the way and the train was not congested – result! The Olympic travel guide said it was a 30 minute walk from Cheshunt Station to the White Water Centre -we were running a bit late so we thought we’d circumvent this by taking a taxi direct to the centre; however traffic restrictions around the the main entrance meant that we were dropped off by Waltham Abbey lock and still had a 15 minute walk to the venue!

When we got to the venue, we found that our seats had been changed (long story) – our new seats were magnificent! We got a splendid view and could see the whole course bar the first 5 gates – we got a particularly good view of the drop called “Ben Nevis”, of three of the trickiest ‘upstream’ gates and of the finish line. The whole course looked magnificent, and though the grandstands will go, the course itself will remain as part of the Olympic legacy – brilliant!

We’ve never been to a white water slalom before, so I industriously researched the ‘rules’ (by watching an event on TV) the day before – I briefed Richard before the start of the first event – the men’s C2 (two men in a canoe) followed by the women’s K1 (one woman in a kayak).

We simply had the best time – white water slalom is a great spectator sport and the audience was buzzing, spurred on by the on-site commentary, which is much more animated than anything you’ll hear on the BBC! The paddlers were accompanied by stirring music – as if the constant roar of the water, the cheers from the crowd and the frantic paddling weren’t exciting enough!

It was all great, but my favourite competitor was Hilgertova Stepanka, who is 44 years old and competed in her first Olympics in 1992 – she has competed in every one since, winning a total of two gold medal. I got very cross at an article on Radio 4 last week, when women who had pinned all of their self-esteem on the trappings of youth suddenly found themselves ageing – “I’ve become invisible” bleated one 44-year old; well, you’re only invisible if you chose to be – look at Hilgertova! She is my new role model, though I’ll never see 44 again and I certainly don’t intend to take up white water kayaking 🙂

Apart from all the boating action, a couple of things tickled me today. The first was the fact that the ladies’ kayak has to weigh a minimum of 9 kg – yet many of the ladies themselves packed a substantial 68Kg plus (all muscle, of course!). The other was the commentator saying how brave one pair of male canoeists were to carry on after accruing and enormous 52 second penalty within seconds of starting the course – but really, what choice did they have but to carry on with the water sweeping them along at13,000 litres per second!

We had thought our tickets covered a 2 hour time slot – we were therefore shocked to suddenly find that it was 5.30pm – four hours had passed in the blink of an eye, though time probably moved a lot slower for the hounds at home. We made haste to leave and, this time, walked to Cheshunt Station – it was a pleasant walk with a convenient short-cut through the Country Park. The transport worked very efficiently, but it seemed to take a long time to get home – we were tired after the thrills of the afternoon – what a great experience…

Photoblog:

The view ‘downstream’ – the spectator seating will be removed after the Games, but the rest will stay as part of the legacy – what a wonderful resource…

Florence and Hounslow from Team GB – they went on to win the silver medal a few days later – whoo hoo!!

I hadn’t realised quite how physical this sport is – I was exhausted just watching the amount of effort was required to avoid getting caught by the waves..

At times the canoes seemed to buried in the water – you’d think they’d just be swept ‘downstream’ but some of the “stopper” waves just hold them in place – this slows them down and escaping saps their energy..

The rules are very lax about whether you do down the course forwards, backwards, or sideways – or any combination you can manage – they would prefer the paddler to stay on top though 🙂

This is Lizzie Neave, from Stone! How did a sensible girl from ‘canal central’ get into this form of boating I wonder? 🙂

Upside down – you can just see the bottom of the kayak behind the grey pole – officials rushed to help but she had righted herself before the life-guards had to dive in…

 

This is Hilgertova Stepanka – my favourite competitor – she is 44 and competed in her first Olympics in 1992!She eventually got to the final but just missed out on a medal – shame..

See the ‘life guards’ ont he far bank? One was attached to an orange safety line, but there were several others, unattached, patrolling the course. In an emergency I wondered whether they stop the water flow – how long would it take to stop I wonder?

Florence and Hounslow of Team GB again….

BIG cheer now for Baillie and Stott of Team GB – they went on to win GOLD!

Baillie and Stott – did I mention that they won Gold a few days later???

And another of Baillie and Stott- eventual Olympic champions…

These are the famous Hochschorner twins – they were expected to run away with the Gold medal in the final, but they were beaten into bronze medal position by Team GB!

My hero – Hilgertove Stepanka – taking on “Ben Nevis”…

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Dog Blog: Living with canine cancer (4)

Posted by indigodream on 7 August, 2012

Rewind to Friday 3rd August

Lou went in for an endoscopy, having been very up and down for the last month, ending with a dramatic bout of the dire rear this week…..

When I got to the vet, he was worried about the dire rear as he thought it was caused by an infection and may be a sign that immune system is too flat. That’s such a shame – I hadn’t been worried about it because I didn’t think it was that serious – “sigh”….

We got some preliminary results from the endoscopy this afternoon:

  • The good news: the site of Lou’s primary tumour on her soft palate is totally normal – We are so relieved about this 🙂
  • The bad news: Lou has a BIG (around 2″ x 1″) red plaque of inflammatory tissue right at the back of her throat  – the vet says it is raw enough to bleed – this is likely to be the cause of her recent swallowing and breathing problems – it must be horribly painful. The vet doesn’t know what the plaque is, but he thinks it is likely to be an infection rather than a new patch of cancer. However, he has taken samples and has ordered every biopsy and culture possible – we’ll get the results next week. He has also tested her poo for infection (results next week also) and has started her on a course of antibiotics.

I had been very worried about Lou being so unwell; but now that I know how sore her throat is, I’m a bit amazed at how stoic she’s been – it must be awful. I am a little bit proud that I’ve been able to maintain her weight and hydration through careful feeding – makes it all worthwhile.

We now have to suspend her maintenance chemotherapy until the diarrhoea has stopped – we should get the results of her white cell count soon – this will tell us how her immune system is doing.

What I learnt:

  • I don’t like waiting for test results!
  • Diarrhoea may be an indicator of something more serious in a dog with a suppressed immune system – I really didn’t know this and it’s IMPORTANT.

I am a bit concerned that Lou only finished a “just in case” course of antibiotics last week – it made no difference to her condition whatsoever. This raises the alarming possibility that the inflammation in her throat is being caused by MRSA – which she had in a wound in March, but then was declared clear (via nose and wound swabs) in early May. I do hope that’s not what’s in her throat – the vet was sanguine that it could be treated. But I remember that it took 6 weeks of antibiotics to get rid of the MRSA from her foot – and that’s a long time when you’re potentially measuring your dog’s life in months rather than years….

Fast Forward to Monday 6th

Lou has had some trouble with walking over the weekend, so we went back to the vet this afternoon. My head was full of doomsday scenarios, but it turns out that she has strained her groin muscles – partly from sliding on the tile floor at the bottom of the stairs and partly from being manhandled around the operating/scanning table at the vet’s on Friday. Now, a groin strain is painful and it affects odd things, like her ability squat comfortably for weeing and pooing (her legs slide out from under her until she’s almost collapsed), but I was ridiculously relieved that it wasn’t more serious.

However, the simple remedy a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory is not an option – she can’t take them because of her cancer drugs. We are going to try some diazepam as a muscle relaxant and see if that helps, and we have got the option of upping her opiate (morphine-like) painkillers if needed. Of course, the slippery floor needs sorting, so cue an emergency visit to Ikea for a few of their excellent washable wool rugs and some anti-slip underlay – what we do for these hounds!!

On the positive, Lou’s dire rear was cured after an injection of antibiotic. As a result of this, she has gained 2kg over the weekend – most of that will be fluid, but I’ll take a win where I can!

What I learnt:

  • Lou was prone to muscle injuries before she had cancer so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be prone to them now – it’s easy to forget that “ordinary” ailments need attention as well as the BIG stuff!

On the test results front, Lou’s white cell count and her kidney function are both ok – this means that we can re-start her maintenance chemotherapy today – this is important! One of her liver enzyme tests is abnormal, but consistent with the effects of the steroid that she is taking as part of her chemotherapy.

The vet had suggested that the big patch of inflammation in her throat might be a fungal infection, like thrush – that would make perfect sense if her immune system is a bit depressed and she’s taking antibiotics. I liked that theory….. 🙂 Alas, the results came back negative, so whatever is going on in her throat is not fungal. We’re waiting for the results of the bacterial cultures and of the biopsies – they take a bit of time – hopefully we’ll know by Wednesday…

I’ve had some sound support in response to the last cancer post – it’s much appreciated and really helped me to get my head around things. When it comes to “what ifs” there is one definite – if we hadn’t treated, she would have died two months ago – simple! On that basis, I can’t regret our attempts to buy her some time….

When we came out of the vet’s room today, the people in the waiting room had brought their ancient and tumour-ridden boxer to be put down – oh how my heart went out to them. Yet I couldn’t help but feel a surge of hope – one day we will say goodbye to Lou – but it’s not today, and for that I’m thankful…..

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