Health Problems
By Eric Fitton


In 1984 a medical examination found that I was suffering from a complaint known as ITP.  This meant that I had insufficient Platelets in my blood and had the effect of delaying clotting should I cut myself but the serious concern was in case there should be internal bleeding.  I had treatment with steroids for a year but as this did not cure the problem it was recommended that I underwent surgery to have my Spleen removed.  I was advised that after the operation I would be on drugs for at least three months and there was no possibility of my returning to work for at least six months.  To cover my absence two of my staff had their jobs upgraded and everything in Special Management went along fine.  A good example of no one being indispensable but it does give one a funny feeling when it applies to oneself.  In the event I had the operation, did not take any drugs afterwards and was ready to return to work within three weeks.  Fine but my job had gone and I had nothing to return to.  However we had the bus and I became the highest paid bus driver in the district.  It was then suggested that I might like to consider early retirement, the sparkle of the job with the council that I had loved had faded so I agreed.  I still had my voluntary work with JJHT and TACT had said that I could continue as the bus driver but of course, understandably, not at the same rate of pay that I had received as Special Management Officer.  Johnnie Johnson was extremely good and put me on his part time staff.  Also shortly after I retired Hanover Housing Association offered me a position as an Area Management Representative for the Luton and Dunstable areas.  I accepted this position but soon fell out of favour.  I had four schemes to manage and was very successful with three of them but the fourth was an absolute nightmare.  I learned soon after taking the job that these tenants had already driven an Area Manager to get another job and my predecessor Area Rep to retire.  The result of a tenants meeting was that I received a written warning from my manager and I decided to quit.  I was obviously getting too old and cranky to have that kind of hassle.

It was at about this time that the European Parliament Elections were held and my son-in-law Denis and I were asked to be doormen at the building in Hatfield, where the votes were to be counted.  I think they were worried that as the British National Party had a candidate, there might be some trouble.  We were assured that the building would be ‘swept’ in case of bombs and there would be a strong police presence during the count.  I don’t know about the sweeping but the police presence was one special constable and one young policewoman.  The day passed quite well and the only trouble caused was by one Conservative and three Labour supporters to whom we refused admission.  The Labour trio made a lot of noise but did not get in, the Conservative accepted the refusal and quietly went away BUT, just before we left I spotted him inside the hall.  How he beat us I don’t know, but he certainly did.  The BNP candidate and supporters were extremely polite and caused no trouble even though it was expected that they might.

The local Conservative Club of which I had been a member for some time, needed a treasurer and I took the position on, after all I thought, I had done a bookkeeping course about 30years ago.  Another of my stupid decisions.  Still I had volunteered and did it for about three years but was pleased when I was able to pass the job over to someone else.

In the early 80’s our lives lost all the glitter and sparkle that Jean and I had been enjoying for 15 or 16 years.  Our son Barry was diagnosed as having Prostate Cancer and told that he had only 18 months to live. In 1991 we went to Stroud and stayed with him for some months but unfortunately Jean developed a heart problem and we returned home so that she could be treated by her own doctor.  While we were staying in Stroud I paid a visit to Broadwell and Down Ampney to attend a reunion of 271 Squadron, with whom I had spent the happiest part of my time in the RAF.  In the church where the service was held the kneelers had tapestry covers, all made by former RAF personnel and all commemorating various wartime events and units.  One in particular, depicting a Dakota of 271 Squadron going down in flames at Arnhem I learned had been made by a chap who had suffered a stroke while half way through making it.  He had completed it using one hand and his teeth.  I was so impressed that I decided to try to do something similar.  It took me quite some time to get going on this but I eventually completed a number of pictures.  One of a Dakota I gave to the Squadron Association and it is now on display in the village hall at Down Ampney where annual reunions are held.  A tapestry of a Spitfire commemorating Johnnie Johnson plus one of The Bury Codicote are hung in the head offices of the JJHT in Cheshire, another of The Bury and one of the Spirella building, are actually hung in the buildings they depict.  My latest, depicting Letchworth Town Hall and the new fountain is ready to be despatched to Horsham to be hung in the house of Charles and Michaela, my nephew’s son and daughter-in law, who say they will treasure it.  A departure from my usual subjects was a three masted sailing ship that I did for my daughter-in-law, that is in Stroud Gloucester and I have retained, for the time being at least, Letchworth Corner Post Office. I am sure they will all eventually get binned but at least I have spread my little efforts about.  Correction…. My ‘Corner Post Office’ has just been sold by auction at a charity fund raising for breast cancer and made £35.00.

Back in Letchworth Jean was eventually admitted to Lister, then it was decided that she would have to be transferred to Harefield hospital to have an Aortic Valve transplant.  The transfer was delayed because although there was a bed available at Harefield, there was no transport to take her.  My offer to take Jean there was accepted so I collected her early one morning and followed an ambulance with a nurse escort aboard but NO patient, all the way from Lister .to Harefield.  After the open heart surgery she was in intensive care for eight days and I was told that it was touch and go whether she would pull through.  Although Barry was very ill himself he and Julie did get over to see her once.  Sadly that was the last time that they saw one another.  Jean was discharged from Harefield but within the space of three weeks was admitted to Lister for another major operation.  She spent our Golden Wedding Anniversary, 23rd May 1992 in Lister, and then on the 7th June I had to tell her that Barry had died.  She was too ill to attend his funeral but against doctor’s advice, refused to stay in hospital any longer and this was the start of ten years ill health.  It was very sad, unable to be with her son during his terminal illness, not being able to attend his funeral and having to undergo two major operations.  When she improved from the second operation I took her to Kent for a couple of weeks convalescence but while we were there she suffered a stroke, and I started to wonder just how much more she could take.   Although never complaining about her lot she was now becoming increasingly dependent on me for just about everything and so I gave up my part time job with JJHT to give me more time to cope with household chores.  Even so I would have found it impossible to cope without Marie who was a tower of strength to me. 

I was advised that I should not have given up my job with the Trust, as it was advisable for my state of mind to retain some outside interest. With this in mind I took up two little interests which only involved a total of five hours each week and I was able to get someone to sit with Jean while I was out.   A course at the Technical College,  ‘Man in the kitchen’, where I hoped to learn to cook better than I had in the RAF and voluntary work at the local hospice, a way of saying ‘thank you’ to the hospice movement, who had been so good to Barry.  Working at the hospice was an eye opener to me.  First I had to attend a training course, 2 hours each week for 14 weeks and had to pay £5 for any tea or biscuits I might have during the course.  At the end of the course I was assessed by a panel and having passed, given three weeks to consider whether I really wanted to work there.  On confirming that I did I was put to work for three hours each week ‘making tea and washing up in the small kitchen’.  I continued with this for about a year and was then promoted to driving which entailed bringing patients in for day care and taking them home afterwards.  This was better for Jean as I only had to leave her for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon on one day each week.  I did this for a couple of years but then decided that it was not advisable to leave Jean on her own even for those short periods.  She was not able to walk very far and for a long time never left the house until I got a wheelchair for her.  With this we did manage to get to our local club for weekly lunches and a few trips to the seaside which she thoroughly enjoyed but she got very agitated when taken to shops.   Eventually it was confirmed that Jean had Altzheimers Disease and she used to go to a day hospital one day each week which she enjoyed and I also got help by employing a Care Company who gave her daily showers. On the 23rd May 2002 we achieved 60 years of marriage and Jean was thrilled to receive a card from Her Majesty the Queen commemorating this.  Sadly the following day, after falling while trying to get through the door from the conservatory, she had to be taken to hospital and never returned home again.  At Lister Hospital, with the card from the Queen at the side of her bed, she seemed quite content and stayed there for a couple of months.  She was then transferred to Hitchin Hospital and again seemed to accept her lot, never complaining about anything.  The nurses in both hospitals all loved her and called her a sweetie.  At Hitchin there was a gradual decline until she died on Christmas Eve 2002. 

Obviously I was lost for quite a while, after years of looking after Jean and then visiting daily during the seven months of her stay in hospital, I found it difficult to cope.  I had developed an arthritic knee, which limited my mobility and prevented me taking up offers of holidays and social functions. I was offered surgery to provide me with a replacement knee but decided against this, thinking it would be too risky at my age and with my general state of health (my earlier operation for Spleen removal had left me without an immune system).  I asked the surgeon what the infection rate was with this type of operation and he told me 10% but in my case would be considerably higher.  For some time I only left the house for shopping and daily pintas at the local Con Club, which fortunately is only a couple of hundred yards down the road.  A group of five or six of us get together most lunch times and try to put the world to rights.  We are all pensioners, mostly widowers and the corner of the club where we sit has become known as the ‘Departure Lounge’.  In 2003, together with two of this group, I began to play Golf.  Only Par Three (or Pitch & Putt as real golfers call it) and although we are never likely to become real golfers (81years of age is a bit late to start learning anything) we thoroughly enjoy it.  Coupled with simple exercises, walking over the course has made a significant improvement to the condition of my knee.  To date two us are still going regularly, weather permitting, but sadly the other one, Geoff, died last year.  I had known him 67 years, as youngsters we were neighbours, had been in the Boys Brigade together, worked at the same firm and for a while even in the same section of that firm.  Although having to use a mobility scooter because of his poor health Geoff had been the instigator of our taking up golf. We had arranged that if ever my knee gave out on the course I would borrow his scooter to get back to my car.  Howard the third member of our group would walk back with me and then drive the scooter back for Geoff.  Thankfully it never happened.  Our efforts caused a lot of amusement to other people but I think Marie’s naming us ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ was the funniest.

That is the tale of my first 83 years and I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed the memories. 

If feedback is favourable I may consider a follow up on the next 83.


Eric Fitton


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