Thursday, September 20, 2007

missing in action

I'm not sure if I should say I've been missing in action, or missing in inaction. I've been a very slack blogger lately, neither commenting nor writing (though reading everything - always reading). I've been feeling worn down at work and at home, and migraines have been descending upon me like mean sprites, poking my tender brain with their knobbly fingers. I'm craving a holiday like some sort of vacation-junkie.

Today I sheepishly phoned a woman I'd consulted with last Saturday morning. It had occurred to me during the week that when I'd seen this polite and sweet lady (ironically, to assess her progress in managing her anxiety), I had been somewhat distracted (some would even say anxious). At the time I saw Tara, my appointment schedule was in disarray, with extended time spent dealing with a previous patient who admitted having attempted suicide that morning, and another before that who was having a crisis of a different nature. So here was Tara, seeking some reassurance and a listening ear. Yet there I was, thinking of the restless waiting room, and wishing Tara had come to me for just the anxiety management, rather than also with her children's test results to be looked at and a request for two more referrals. I wasn't focused, I wasn't listening well, my empathy had flown the coop and I didn't give Tara the kindness she deserved from her family doctor. So I phoned her today and admitted it. Told her I was sorry that I'd been distracted; admitted I'd been stressed but apologised that I should have put that stress to one side the minute she entered the room. Tara thanked me, but told me there was no need to be sorry. She told me I was only human. Which is true, but still. That seems like a handy excuse for just about anything.

A holiday would be good. My patients need a holiday from me, and I'd love to be in charge of nothing more than buying fish and chips.

But hey! What's this I see in my crystal ball, what is this blurry portent of my future? I see ..... my family, I see ..... a plane, and look! - there's a stretch of wild windy coastline not far from a major wine-growing region. It's a HOLIDAY !!!!

In two days, we leave for two weeks of R&R. I'll be unlikely to post while I'm away, but will try to find an internet cafe and check blogs now & then.

Take care of yourselves, everyone. Meggie and Heather, feel better soon. John, I'm sending you a big hug. Freefalling, I hope you are enjoying your blog-holiday, but hope you get back to blogging when you feel ready. T, you get a big, tight hug too. And a kiss on the cheek.

In a while crocodile :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Somehow I was coerced into collecting for a major charity last week. When I say 'coerced', what really happened was that some quietly-spoken young woman phoned, and politely asked if I would door-knock in my street. In reality, I was held to ransom by my own conscience. This particular charity is a very deserving charity, and one which funds projects that benefit the health of millions of Australians. We're not talking a fund for visually-impaired seeing eye dogs or anything.

I set off, wearing the supplied badge that proclaimed me as a bonafide collector. I spoke to many friendly people who all disappeared back into their homes for some small change. Our neighbour in the big house next to us donated $10. Towards the end, I rang the bell at one of the fanciest houses in our street.

I should clarify that our street is an old street in this city. Although we aren't far from the city centre, this street was once part of a farm. Eventually, around the turn of the century, the farm was subdivided and the area was developed. There are many old houses - some renovated and lovely, and some in states of disrepair. There are also some more modern, but plain, houses. There are no architect-designed mansions. The most glamorous houses are some modern houses built to replicate the look of the older houses (I call them replicants), except they are twice the size with none of the character of the older homes.

I buzzed the doorbell at one of these flashy 'replicants'. A woman came to the door, and I explained the reason for my visit. She frowned and shook her head at me. "No, we're only donating to cancer at the moment", she replied.
"Sure, no worries", I reassured her.
"I mean, you can't give to everything, can you?", she persisted, a little tetchily.
"Yeah, that's fine, " I answered, "Thanks anyway".
I thought very little of what she'd said. I figured perhaps her family had recently given a large amount to cancer research. And what she said made some sense - I supposed she was right that you can't donate to every worthwhile cause.

But then I crossed the road to a small, derelict-looking home. The roof sagged. The yard was overgrown. As I passed a towel-covered deck chair on the front patio, there was an unmistakeable reek of urine. I surmised that an elderly person lived here - probably alone. It was evident that funds were tight. I considered not knocking at all, thinking it best not to bother this pensioner with requests for money they obviously didn't have to spare.

I decided that it would be patronising to make this decision myself. I decided to rap on the door and let the occupant decide about any donation.

A quavery voice called from the depths of the house - "Who is it?"

"It's Jellyhead, your neighbour from number 17, " I bellowed through the door. "I'm collecting for the National Heart Foundation".

"Hang on!" came the quavery voice, this time a little nearer. The door rattled as bolts were drawn back and the knob turned. The smell of cigarette smoke hit me almost before I glimpsed the wizened old lady. Her face was weary and folded with age, and her hair hung around her cheeks in clumps, like dreadlocks. Shadowing her face and hair was a black hood, giving her an extraordinary and very witch-like appearance.

The old lady smiled at me. "I'm sure I can find tuppence to give you", she remarked cheerily, shuffling off into the sooty darkness of her home. I stood at the door, amazed. I had expected to be turned away. Yet this ancient crone, who evidently had so little herself, was willing to donate to charity.

Returning with a twenty-cent piece, the old lady croaked, "It's not much, but here you go."

"Thank you!", I replied, meaning it with all my heart. "Just imagine if everyone gave twenty cents - how much money would be raised". (for our population - approximately 3.5 million dollars)

"Well, that's true!" the old lady cackled gaily.

We said goodbye, and I walked away across the acrid-smelling porch. My mind was racing, and my emotions were whirling and eddying. I felt that something profound had just happened with this cigarette-puffing, odd old lady.

Generosity is a small old woman on my street.

Friday, September 07, 2007

tales of a gym bunny

You didn't know I was a gym bunny? Well, perhaps it's the term 'bunny' that you're struggling with. I mean, it's true I attend my local gym twice a week, almost without fail. But given the state of my thighs and the fact that my upper arms are beginning to wave in the breeze..... well, considering all this I might better be called a gym hag. But 'bunny' sounds much more cheery. So try to swallow your misgivings, and let me be the bunny. he he.

Today, this ageing bunny took herself to her usual boxing class at the gym. This gym class is renowned for being brutal. Our pumped-up instructor can do a handstand directly from a crouched position (go on - try it!), he makes us 'ski sit' against the wall for minutes on end, he makes us shuttle run, do sit-ups, run, do push ups, and run, and run and run. He is a tyrant. But he makes us all very fit.

Into this class of mostly thirty-to forty-something mothers wandered a petite, immaculate Eurasian-looking young woman in tight black lycra. I fiddled with my long loose sweatpants and straightened my T-shirt as I enviously eyed her neat hips and miniature thighs. This chick was not just slim, she was tiny. Tiny in a way I will never be unless I acquire some hideous wasting disease. On her delicate frame, though, her smallness was cute and appealing.

Ms Tiny took up a position off to my left, and began to punch the air, as we warmed up. I was gratified to see in my peripheral vision that she looked a bit awkward, a bit unco, as we Aussies say (unco=uncoordinated). Almost immediately, though, my cheer turned sour as I turned and caught a glimpse of her face up close. Dark eyes, button nose - overall disgustingly pretty. I am opposed to this kind of excess physical beauty on principle. I believe it encourages moral laxity in the afflicted individuals. Also, these people make me look bad.

I kept punching the air, wondering to myself if perhaps Ms Tiny might be really dumb or even better completely humorless. I comforted myself with the fact that she was unlikely to make carrot cake like I can.

The class continued as we punched in pairs. I was paired with Heidi, a warm and funny woman who smiles all the time, even when she's punching. When she really relaxes, she also makes sound effects as she punches, saying softly, 'Shhhww, shhhww', as she belts the mitts.

I was getting pretty tired by the time The Taskmaster instructed us to lie on our sides on the small platform at the front of the room, hips at the edge of the 'step', fingertips behind ears. 'Touch your elbow to the floor, come up, then down again.... keep going until you've done twenty side-crunches', he ordered.

Ms Tiny was positioned next to me again. 'Good', I thought to myself. 'She's bound to be bad at this. She's so scrawny, she'll have no power whatsoever'. But I was forgetting basic physics. Ms Tiny's muscles were a tad smaller than mine. But her torso also weighed about half as much as mine. Off she went, bobbing up and down interminably, while I sweated and grunted and thought about ways to kill Miniature Gym Bunnies.

Finally, I was finished - but of course Mini Gym Bunny had finished before me, and was sitting pertly nearby. I sat up, shaky..... lurched.... and knocked over Mini Gym Bunny.

What? What are you suggesting? It was an accident.

I can't help it if she's so puny that one bump from a slightly chubby knee sends her sprawling on the floor. Besides, she should know better than to show up her elders and ugliers.

Even though none of it was my fault, and frankly she deserved worse for daring to be so cute, Mini Gym Bunny was dismissive of my apologies. She frowned and refused to even meet my gaze. Anyone would think there was something awful about being bowled over by a jealous, sweaty, baggy-clothed (possibly smelly?) gym hag.

I can't see the problem myself.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

behind the bedroom doors

It's not all blood and guts and sweat and tears, being a doctor. In fact, as a family GP, there's very little blood, and never any guts whatsoever. (Sweat and tears there are plenty of - and that's just from me after a long day). One thing that my job does entail is an almost unparalled access to peoples' inner lives. I hear about drug experimentation, I know about past criminal convictions. I am told of abortions and illicit affairs. I hear all kinds of secrets, because people know their secrets are safe with me. Unless someone plans to harm themselves, or others, I cannot break confidentiality. My lips are sealed.

So when I find out all sorts of details about peoples' sex lives, I cannot help but be intrigued. I mean, there are not many jobs with such a direct line to these nitty gritty facts. People tell me things I wouldn't hear from my closest friends. I get to find out what's happening behind all those bedroom doors. Honestly, it's been an eye-opener.

About ten years ago, I was sitting talking to a suburban, married, 30-something woman about something unrelated, when she suddenly asked me how to use a device made for 'safe' female-to-female oral sex. I'm sure the whites of my eyes were showing as I tried to coolly describe the correct usage of this piece of protective plastic. Firstly, I really had no idea beyond the vaguest concept of how this gear should be used (but surely there are instructions on the packet?!). Secondly, my mind was racing as I thought in confusion, Hang on! Your husband comes to this practice, too. Does he know about this? Are you two going to be okay? As it happened, they weren't okay - they eventually divorced. And thinking back, I wonder if this lady made her query as a way of letting me know she was bisexual (or gay), to make me to realise that all was not as it seemed. (Either that, or she thought it would be hilarious to watch a nerdy young doctor stammer her way through an sex-related explanation!) I'm not sure what happened to this lady, as I moved from that practice a few years ago. However, her husband has continued to consult me at my new practice, and he has since happily remarried.

The most captivating sex tales I've heard involve societal preconceptions about youth, age and intimacy being turned on their heads. The general community seems to expect anyone over the age of sixty to retire from all sexual thoughts, desires and activity (heaven forbid that we not all look like smooth-faced, flat-bellied movie stars whilst having sex!!), while we assume the youth of the world are going at it like rabbits. So it was a lesson for me to be allowed a window into the lives of 'May' and 'Kylie'.

May was a feisty 78-year-old widow with beautiful shoes and sparkling eyes. She was smart and vivacious, and maintained an active social life. Inevitably, she would tell me about various men who asked her out. May didn't seem too interested in any particular man, until 'Ralph' came along. Then suddenly she talked of Ralph doing this, Ralph saying that. May and Ralph went out for meals. May and Ralph went walking. They went to dances. Things got even more serious, and then everything began to unravel. May was miffed. Ralph only seemed interested in being 'intimate' with her once every few weeks, whereas May was ready to get busy every few days. Being the outspoken woman that she was, May complained to me bitterly in her heavy Eastern European accent, "A vo-man has needs, you know!". And in her hurt, she huffed, "And he needs to take pills to purrrrrr-form! My husband never needed any-sink!". It was difficult to keep a straight face around May, but somehow I'm sure May wouldn't have minded if I'd smiled. She was grinning herself half the time.

Kylie was just a teen when I first met her. She wanted to begin taking a contraceptive pill, and I was asking her routine questions, including whether she could possibly already be pregnant. Kylie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She admitted shyly, "Well, it's been awhile since we know." Familiar with the usual stories from teens with raging hormones, I assumed we were talking about a whole three days here.
"Did you use any protection?", I queried.
"Um," Kylie stalled. "Well, I'm not sure. I can't really remember. But I know I'm not pregnant. There's no way I could be."
"How can you be sure?", I asked, beginning to feel frustrated with this verbal tennis match.
Kylie paused. "Well ...... we're not really that into sex. Neither of us."
"Okay..." I prompted.
"And so.... (I'm thinking that this is like pulling teeth. Large, impacted wisdom teeth)... "so it's been awhile."
"Awhile?" I echo.
"Yes," Kylie replies, "About three or four months." I quickly retrieved my jaw from the floor so I could continue to speak.

Turns out Kylie and her boyfriend liked to do a spot of horizontal dancing at Christmas, New Year, and on each of their birthdays. That's it. And for those of you who are thinking that a relationship like that would never last - that the boyfriend must have been secretly seething with sexual frustration (you cynics! you sex-obsessed people!) - I have an update. It's been more than ten years, but Kylie showed up at my current place of work the other day. She has since married the boyfriend. They are very content together. And now, they have sex at Christmas, New Year, on their birthdays.......

and on their wedding anniversary.