For nearly all of my 77 years on this earth, I have lived in the Dumfriesshire parish of Kirkmahoe. Not easy to find on a map, it’s a delightful place of rolling green pastures that slope down to the banks of the River Nith, just as it nears the end of its watery journey and debouches into the Solway Firth. I grew up here and with the exception of a few brief sojurns elsewhere, Kirkmahoe and its wider environs are where I have made my life.
I come from quite a large family, many of them employed on the land, working in sheep farming and also field sports, like pheasant shooting. You might say that the countryside is in my blood, which is why I’ve never wanted to live and work anywhere else. I still love the local woods, fields and burns, and the intriguing place names, like Doctor’s Knowe and Deadman’s Hole, two spots close to where I live.
It rains a lot here and our seasons aren’t always predictable but I still like to rootle around whenever I can. My mobility isn’t as good as it was, but I wouldn’t want to miss my walk every morning before breakfast, and then again last thing at night.
With all the turbulence in the world in 2022, it’s perhaps not surprising that some of us are inclined to look back to better times. I know that can mean a tendency to idealise how things were in years gone by. As someone once said, even nostalgia doesn’t seem as good these days. But to be fair, this has really been an annus conturbant, to paraphrase our late Queen.
Spring was just getting underway when Russia invaded Ukraine, precipitating a bloody conflict that shows no likelihood of ending soon. Chaos has been the hallmark of the Westminster Government, serving up no less than three Prime Ministers in a matter of a few months. COP27 has once again highlighted the climate crisis that’s enveloping us all and impacting fastest in those communities least resourced to deal with it. The cost of living is rising to eye-watering levels, whilst the long term effects of the pandemic are still reverberating. You must know these things as well as I do, if not far better.
Against this background, and in the midst of the July heatwave, I became seriously ill. The problem was something called a pharyngeal pouch infection. Sounds nasty, and indeed it was. I’ll spare you the details, especially as the cause proved impossible to determine. By way of treatment I was put on an aggressive course of anti-biotics plus anti-inflammatories. At the same time no one tried to hide the severity of the situation. It was explained to me and my family that I was ‘sick enough to die’.
I understand that continuing with active treatment whilst also focussing on symptom relief is the modern approach to palliative care. So in addition to the drugs, I got cold drinks and ice packs to cool me down, my bedding was changed every day and the atmosphere round the house was made calm and peaceful by ambient music, played to ease my distress. At one point, when things looked very bad, the family even set up a vigil around my bed, thinking my time wasn’t long.
But then, Lazarus-like, I made an incredible recovery. After five or six days of this special regime I was feeling much better, and in time I got back to my usual daily routine and eating habits. I wasn’t the only one in the house to be thrilled about it, I can tell you!
By October I was even able to take a short autumn holiday on the Northumberland coast, where the sea air did me a power of good.
Now as the year is drawing to a close, I’m looking at both sides of life’s coin. Yes, there may be further medical problems ahead, but there can also be good quality of life, even as age and illness advance. I’m living every day as if it was my last. Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. It’s not a bad way to face the world. Despite the problems all around and notwithstanding my own health issues, I am looking to 2023 as optimistically as I can. I hope anyone reading this can try to do the same.
Oh, and by the way, just one thing before I go. My name is Baxter and my preferred pronouns are he/him.
Also, I should probably let you know: I’m a Cocker Spaniel.