On the Sick List

Country Smallholding - - Inside This -

By Paul Peacock

So many peo­ple dream of a life of self-suf­fi­ciency — a coun­try life pop­u­lated with hens and sheep, bees and goats. But what hap­pens when ill­ness gets in the way? Are your dreams re­placed with pills and med­i­cal pro­ce­dures, do you sol­dier on or does life take you in a new di­rec­tion? Paul Peacock finds out

Paul and Tess Wright were a fairly con­ven­tional cou­ple who loved food. Paul was a self­em­ployed builder who worked all hours. They had their gar­den, their hens and veg­eta­bles, they liked to for­age and Paul loved to fish.

Then one day Paul found that he couldn’t hear in one ear. Tests re­vealed that he had an acous­tic neu­roma — a brain tu­mour to you and me. Sud­denly life was un­cer­tain and com­plex. Ma­jor surgery could leave him paral­ysed, blind, worse.

The day of the surgery came around; the long­est in Tess’s life. Paul was keen to keep the drill bit they used to gain en­try to his tu­mour. A six-hour op­er­a­tion left him in in­ten­sive care, but with no paral­y­sis, good vi­sion and he could speak, al­though he did lose the hear­ing in his af­fected ear.

The three months’ re­cov­ery time when he couldn’t drive was the worst part. No driv­ing meant no work­ing and no work­ing meant bore­dom. Tess bought him a sausage-mak­ing kit and Paul threw him­self into it. Cour­ses fol­lowed, in­clud­ing at the Ital­ian Culi­nary In­sti­tute in Tus­cany, al­though Paul was pretty much up to speed any­way and he was soon pro­duc­ing smoked food, char­cu­terie and sausages par ex­cel­lence.

Be­com­ing heav­ily in­volved in their lo­cal farmers’ market, which they ran for some years, brought their prod­ucts to a wider au­di­ence and an award at the Time & Leisure Food Awards quickly fol­lowed.

It be­came clear to Paul and Tess that they needed to be­come pri­mary pro­duc­ers. The neigh­bours had al­ready named them ‘Tom and Bar­bara’, but up to then they were buy­ing in meat. They needed their own and they needed a big­ger smok­ery. They had to move. The re­sult was a cou­ple of acres of Devon­shire called Mud­dipud­dle Farm, com­plete with a wet­land area that Paul coaxed back into a pond for trout as only a builder could do.

It would have been easy for Paul and Tess to sim­ply re­treat, to scale down their ac­tiv­i­ties, wrap them­selves in cot­ton wool and dis­re­garded their un­fold­ing story into small­hold­ing. Now they have pigs, goats, chick­ens, ducks and

tur­keys, with the odd wild deer thrown in on oc­ca­sions. But then, as Paul says, some­times you just have to bite the bul­let.

Keep­ing sane

It takes a dif­fer­ent kind of de­ter­mi­na­tion to over­come pain that gnaws at you day af­ter day. Wowie Dun­nings found help from a source she wasn’t ex­pect­ing. “Back prob­lems can be so hor­ri­ble,” Wowie was quite clear on the phone. “It leaves you in agony and then de­pressed.” Wowie’s pain was long term. A slipped disc led to nine op­er­a­tions and hun­dreds of pro­ce­dures. The time when she found the most re­lief was vis­it­ing her sis­ter’s farm and sim­ply get­ting in­volved with the sheep. “It was fas­ci­nat­ing and I just got stuck in. When I was with the sheep I had least pain.” Wowie de­cided that life had to be for her. She bought nine South­down sheep and later some Ox­ford Downs, with their cute black faces, and got stuck in. Later still came Ox­ford Sandy and Black pigs — that’s a whole gang of ‘get­ting stuck in’. How does she cope with the pain? She just copes. With a lit­tle help from friends now and then and her hus­band, Paul, she gets by. “They get me out of bed in the morn­ing.” Small­hold­ers ev­ery­where have that in­ward pres­ence. Cut them open and you would see the words ‘an­i­mal wel­fare’ run­ning right through them. But for peo­ple who have an ill­ness or health prob­lem this is of­ten mag­ni­fied. How will the an­i­mals cope if I am ill? Wowie en­tered one of her South­downs in a lo­cal show. Two days ear­lier she was ly­ing in bed, in hor­rid pain, find­ing so­lace in tears. The re­ward for climb­ing out of bed, dress­ing her sheep and driv­ing it to the show was the show cham­pion’s sash. “From that time on I was bit­ten by the show bug.” Now, dur­ing show sea­son she can be found don­ning a white coat and head­ing for the ring. Life has been made much eas­ier since she had a spinal chord stim­u­la­tor fit­ted,

a de­vice which in­ter­rupts pain mes­sages from the source be­fore they get to the brain. They aim for 50% to 70% pain re­duc­tion and Wowie still has good days and bad days.

“If it wasn’t for my sheep, I’d be in deep de­pres­sion.” Thank good­ness for the sheep.

Hys­terec­tomies are not hys­ter­i­cal

Sascha De Lisle-But­ler took on a small­hold­ing in West Wales; windy, up­hill, al­most bleak. Her hus­band, Alex, was a chef at a lo­cal ho­tel and Sascha worked full time away from the small­hold­ing. Leav­ing in the morn­ing, af­ter let­ting the hens out, they didn’t see the hold­ing un­til re­turn­ing at night to lock them up. Hardly see­ing the hold­ing at all in day­light, they were not en­joy­ing it as they would have liked. So they de­cided: what’s the point? They needed to run the small­hold­ing as a small­hold­ing and so a flock of Ja­cob sheep soon joined their feath­ered fam­ily.

Sascha was the small­holder in the fam­ily; Alex, spend­ing much of ev­ery day at the ho­tel, had less time avail­able. Cir­cum­stances, how­ever, plot­ted a dif­fer­ent path. Sascha was hav­ing prob­lems. She was get­ting tired and hav­ing ab­dom­i­nal pain which came in in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent bouts. Nu­mer­ous tests and ex­am­i­na­tions fu­elled the con­clu­sion that a full hys­terec­tomy was the only way for­ward.

Sascha de­scribed the di­ag­no­sis as a set­back. Go­ing into small­hold­ing with rose-tinted glasses was never go­ing to give an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the fu­ture, but who could have fore­seen this?

Two hours be­fore ad­mis­sion to hos­pi­tal, Sascha was in­ject­ing AB into a lamb that needed it.

“I was tempted to give my­self a shot, just in case.”

The re­cov­ery from such a dev­as­tat­ing op is bad enough for any­one. For the first two weeks, Alex saw to the sheep, the poul­try and drove daily to the hos­pi­tal. Then it was home time. No lift­ing for three months. “You have to work up to do­ing stuff, walk­ing, stand­ing even.”

Lamb­ing was a real nag for her. Sascha found her­self miss­ing her sheep so much, that one day Alex ar­ranged for her to be car­ried bod­ily in a chair to a pad­dock, and the lambs were brought to her.

“It was the sheep that helped me get through,” says Sascha. “I needed them as much as they needed me.”

Neigh­bours came and helped where nec­es­sary and vis­it­ing fam­ily had to work their pas­sage. Slowly, some­times painfully, life started to re­or­gan­ise it­self into a more nor­mal rou­tine. Veg­etable plots were re­tended and be­came pro­duc­tive.

“It was a bit of a set­back,” con­fesses Sascha. “And not what we ex­pected.”

Sascha De Lisle-But­ler and her hus­band, Alex, with a few of their ‘gang’

‘I caught the bug!’ Since tak­ing the Show Cham­pion ac­co­lade at her first show, Wowie Dun­nings has not looked back

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