Don’t pick your nose and other salutary tales!

I began writing this posting on a holiday weekend in Canada. It turned out to be rather traumatic and it was entirely my own fault. On Friday, before going to work, I shoved an exploratory finger up my, nose. This was a really bad idea. Blood started to pour out in an impressive and steady stream. After an hour and a half of pinching my nose, icing it (the most effective form of ice I had was a bottle of vodka from the freezer, which worked surprisingly well in terms of providing the maximum coverage), and trying other remedies, (including) those I found with a quick Google search, I knew I needed help. As Tony Hancock put it in “The Blood Donor”:

‘I had lost close to an arm full’.

It was a prolific nose bleed.

I caught a taxi and headed for the Grand River Hospital, which is actually within walking distance of the apartment. It did not make sense to walk with a stream of crimson coming from my nose. Fortunately, the majority of the towels I have in the house are red; in fact blood red. This meant I was able to carry something with me to absorb the gore. When I got to the hospital I was checked in with the triage nurse, details were taken and I was labelled. Mine said: “Stupid older white male who does not know how to pick his nose – no rush”.

I waited for about two hours before being seen by a physician. He inserted a small inflatable object in my nose and blew it up. That certainly worked, the bleeding stopped. The associated paraphernalia looked like a feeding tube sticking to the side of my face and was most uncomfortable. Unfortunately I had invited friends for a braai that evening. I have to say they were extremely polite, and it did not make too many comments about my appearance, but I am sure they think I am weird. It was humiliating!

Nosebleed, stage 1

Nosebleed, stage 1

Nosebleed, stage 2

Nosebleed, stage 2

On Saturday, I simply spent most of the day in bed and asleep. I think it was a combination of the shock and the embarrassment of damaging myself in this bizarre manner. There is a picture on the website which I advise only those who are strong at heart to look at. The doctor suggested that I keep the plug in place until Sunday. So early on Sunday morning, before eight, I went back to the hospital. I had assumed that I would be able to get in and out fairly quickly. But that was a completely wrong assessment of the situation. Although the accident and emergency (A & E) did not seem a very busy, I was not seen until nearly twelve. The majority of the other patients were coming in with minor injuries and illnesses. I suspect that the really serious cases come in through another entrance of the A & E.

The physician who saw me simply let the air out of the bulb, pulled the apparatus from my nostril – an uncomfortable feeling, and sent me on my way. I had a prescription for antibiotics, in case my sinuses were infected, and eye drops because my eye was inflamed by this stage. We agreed that the antibiotics would only be used in the event that it was clear that the sinuses were giving major problems. I am hopeful that I won’t have to take them, but it is always handy to have a course of antibiotics about, as long as they are used sensibly.

The worst aspect of the second visit is that I didn’t take anything to read, or rather I did take a copy of the New Yorker, but it was one that I had already read from cover to cover. That was frustrating. I did however spend much of the time reflecting on how incredibly stupid I had been. Are there any mitigating circumstances? The only one that I can think of is that the air conditioning of our apartment block was out of order and so the entire night there was heating rather than cooling. It must have dried out the apartment, the air, and my nose in that order.

It is the first encounter I have had with emergency medicine in Canada. On reflection it seems very similar to the processes we have in England. You will be seen, but only when more serious cases have been dealt with, and that means you could wait for a very long time. I know this is good socialist medicine, that there is something to be said for being able to go to the emergency room in Durban and be seen at once because you are paying. This does not appeal to my socialist inner being but I have to be honest and admit that I do value my time more than other peoples’. In case anyone is interested there is a rather good little ditty on the web, advice I am going to try to live by.

The weather here has an exceptionally pleasant. We began going up on to the rooftop patio of the Seagram building and using the gas braai (BBQ), a good few weeks ago. I have to admit that initially we were pushing our luck as we tended to need coats and occasionally even an umbrella to be able to be on the roof. This has changed and on the last occasion we were able to sit out in shirt sleeves.

This community asset is something I really value and I have been surprised at how little it is used by my fellow residents in the building. We have been having regular Monday evening braais, and will continue doing so until I travel to the UK and South Africa in late June and July. Hopefully my colleagues will continue with the routine. It is nice to have something regular happening even if I’m not part of it. The gardeners in the apartment complex grow herbs in the raised beds on the roof, but I don’t know if they are communal!

The last braai was attended by Neil Turok (his parents were extremely significant in the struggle against apartheid and Neil was born in South Africa but grew up in England) and his partner Corinne Squire. Corinne is a professor at the University of East London and has been very involved in working with the refugees who were stranded in the camp known as ‘the Jungle’ near Calais on the French coast. Corrine very kindly gave me a copy of a just produced book which I have reviewed at the end of this blog.

Big news for the family was the announcement that Rowan is on a four strong shortlist for the best unpublished manuscript for the 2017 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing prize. Her book, Yellow Tooth, is set in South Africa, the country where she was born and where I’ve spent a great deal of my life and career. It is a page turner of a book and I have really enjoyed reading some of the early drafts. We are very proud of her nomination. It is a tribute to her writing skill and imagination. I will be keeping people updated as the book goes into production through this blog, Facebook and any other media I can use. As I write this I remember reading early Wilbur Smith books in Swaziland, and much enjoying them.


Voices from the ‘Jungle’ Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp, edited by Marie Godin, Katrine Møller Hansen, Aura Lounasmaa, Corinne Squire and Tabir Zaman, Pluto Press, 2017, 266 pages. These are stories written by refugees living in the jungle. Most of the contributors are people who have spent significant time and effort trying to reach the UK. It is a remarkable selection with the goal to ‘bring into the public view personal stories of people who lived as refugees during 2015 and 2016’. I have not yet read it, but do want to promote it.

Laura Kipnis, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, Harper Collins, 2017, 256 pages. I found this book and then devoured a number of others by this American cultural critic and feminist intellectual. I guess that I was quite shocked the fact I had not come across her before. This book is based on the case of the philosopher Peter Ludlow, who resigned from Northwestern University after a university disciplinary body found that he sexually harassed two students. The Wikipedia entry says:

”A central argument of the book is that “the stifling sense of sexual danger sweeping American campuses” and “neo-sentimentality about female vulnerability” do not empower women, but impede the fight for gender equality.”

Apart from this I found the descriptions of student drunkenness shocking.