Tuesday, January 29, 2008

fierce creatures

The lion padded swiftly towards us. I tried to move away steadily, without running. I herded the children in front of me, urging them on with low, insistent words. My daughter was in front and reached the door of the hut first. She darted inside, and I reached for Ben's hand to pull him inside, too.

The lion snarled and pounced. He seized my son betweeen his jaws; caught my son by the back of the neck as if Ben was an errant lion cub. The beast lifted my son in the air and I watched with a sense of hopelessness, and with a feeling of unbearable loss. In that moment, I felt a chasm of grief open up and I peered down into its depths with mounting horror.

And then I attacked the lion. I yelled, I howled, my rage knew no bounds. I grabbed my son with one arm, and began punching the lion's chest with my free hand. Sounds of such great fury came from my mouth that even I was astonished. There was a brief tug-of-war, and then all at once it was over. The lion released my son, and gave its head a shake, almost as if in disgust. The lion looked at me for a moment. His eyes seemed to convey that he could have taken my son; that this victory was only mine because he'd chosen to allow it.

This was my dream, the night before Ben starts school (today). Do you think I might be feeling a wee bit protective of him?!!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

a new era

He's going to school. My baby, my youngest child, my chubby, ever-questioning, dimple-smiled Ben is starting school next week. In his over-large shirt and his shorts almost reaching his ankles, he looks too small to be a schoolboy. He's five, though, and he's ready to fly the coop.

My friend Heather consoled me, "He's going to be fine. He'll love school!"

"I know!", I retorted mock-tetchily. "I'm not worried about him! It's ME who's upset .... don't you realise it's all about ME?!"

Ah, yes, of course," she replied, smiling. "How silly of me. Of course it's all about you."

I pouted dramatically for a moment, then laughed. Because I know it's pure selfishness to be sad about something that will be thrilling and interesting and challenging for my son. School will mean a growing sense of independence for him. He will learn to feel confident with all different types of people. Ben will learn to read and write, and the magical world of books and communication will open up to him. He will hear differing opinions, and begin to evaluate situations himself. It will be the start of his boyhood.

For me, it is a chapter of my life coming to a close. No longer will I be a mother of pre-schoolers; no more will I compare notes with my friends about the drudgery and delights of staying home with small children. I will be working another day as a GP. On my two days at home, I will go about the housework, and grocery shopping without interruption..... and although that probably seemed like bliss when the children were babies, the idea now strikes me as faintly sad.

Others who have gone through this same change of role assure me that within days I will be whooping with joy as I whizz about, unencumbered. They're probably right. I've always enjoyed my own company, and I have plenty of projects - both pleasurable and tedious - to occupy me. It's not that I need the company of a child in my day. It's just that I'll miss it.

So goodbye little Benjamin and hello there, schoolboy Ben! I'm sure your days will be filled with fun, in new and varied ways. I really am excited, and proud, and happy for you to be starting school next week.
I just might need a tissue when I get back to the car.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I used to be a Sleep Princess. I could only sleep if lying down in a bed, preferably my own. If there was the slightest noise, I had trouble dropping off. Any discomfort rendered me an insomniac. My husband Fatty joked about checking under the mattress for peas.

And then I had children. Since that fateful day, I have found that nothing much deters me from sleep. I become dimly aware of Fatty snoring at 100 decibels, and I turn over and fall back to sleep. I slumber peacefully through storms. Just like 'normal people', I now may drift off whilst sitting upright, watching a movie. My children wear me out, and now I can sleep.

Except that it is 4am right now (or it was when I gave up on sleep after an hour of tossing and turning) and here I am sitting at the kitchen table. I have a wry neck. Not such a big deal. But I am remembering what it is like to be awake through the night, and how isolating it is, and how I used to not like it!

When I worked nights, I hated the feeling of driving in to work to start a 10pm shift. I experienced a terrible sort of jealousy towards all those who were just about to crawl sleepily into bed. Dreading what cases might come in to the emergency department overnight, often having slept fitfully during the day, I wanted desperately to flop into bed, too. I remember driving to the hospital feeling so alone, with a knot in the centre of my belly.

Other times I lay awake the night before an exam, or after a big spat with a boyfriend. Once I was awake most of the night after having a root canal done the day before. Yet I realise I have nothing to complain about, because these are all fairly isolated incidents, like tonight...or should I say today?! Some people struggle terribly with insomnia. Even the simple process of getting older causes a change in sleep patterns such that people in their 60's or 70's begin to sleep in 2 or 3 blocks of slumber, with periods in between where they are wide awake.

A friend of mine who has fought depression and come through it says the worst thing about her illness was the insomnia. I remember her despair at not being able to get to sleep, and she described her terror each time she woke after only a couple of hours' sleep. She was desperately trying to function on a few snatched hours here and there, and the tiredness and loneliness from being awake all through the night just floored her.

It's good to put one night of poor sleep into perspective. And now that the birds are beginning to chirp, and the panadol is starting to kick in, I may just head back to bed. If there are any peas under the mattress, I'll eat them.

Good night, good morning or good day, depending. I wish you a good night's sleep tonight, wherever you are!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

dancing around an elephant

One of my patients is dying. Perhaps I should clarify that - given that we all are, in essence, heading for that final curtain. One of my patients is dying, and will die soon.

I still find it disturbing and unsettling, no matter how many times I attend someone in their last months, weeks and days. Dying is such an unknown, and so brutally complete. There can be no encores - at least not in this world. I wonder how the person feels, and if they are afraid. I wonder if they wish they were well enough for just one more stroll along the sand, just one more lazy afternoon devouring a thick novel, just one more animated, wine-fuelled, late-night debate with family or friends.

I'm not sure whether it is coincidental, but my last two terminally-ill patients have seemed, to me, quite withdrawn and distant. Almost emotionless. I asked each lady how they were feeling, mood-wise. Each replied calmly that they had 'come to terms' with their situation. Yet, to me, it felt like more than 'coming to terms' - to me it seemed more like a slow 'checking out'. We discussed their wishes for their last days of life as if we were discussing a grocery list.

It was in this strange atmosphere of disconnected emotions that I visited 'Mrs E' yesterday. She lives alone in a small retirement village unit. She was sitting patiently and uncomfortably on a seat near the front door. Her arms & legs have wasted even more since I saw her last week. Her eyes and skin are turning a delicate lemon yellow. And when I felt her abdomen.... suffice it to say the distortion of her internal organs filled me with horror at the time, and brings tears to my eyes to recall it now.

We sat and talked about her discomforts, and made plans to relieve her symptoms as best we could. Arrangements for assistance in home and personal care were confirmed. I lightly stroked her swollen feet as we discussed the fluid retention - not because it would help, but because I wondered if anyone ever touches her poor puffy feet. Mrs E earnestly discussed a new medication, and mentioned troubles with her phone. And the enormous elephant, the subject of Mrs E's impending death, stood in the centre of the room. We both leaned to look around the elephant and continued to discuss nursing visits.

I know there is a cycle of life and death. I know that Mrs E is an elderly lady, and that this is the inevitable conclusion to her life. I know that she is wiser than I am, and I do believe she is accepting of the fact that she will not live to see winter. And yet her bony arms make me want to weep.

Monday, January 07, 2008

old flames, and love in the kitchen

I've been away. Quite possibly this fact has gone unnoticed by all, but nevertheless - I've been away!

While away I spoke on the phone to my friend C. W. Woo. He had news of a fellow I dated for a few years. This Fellow I Dated (who from now on shall be referred to as 'FID') and I were only young at the time, but we were quite serious for awhile there. FID and I were youthfully, naively certain we were in love. In truth I think we were mostly in love with the concept of having a steady girlfriend/boyfriend. In any case, that was a long time ago (17 years, to be precise). We grew apart, we broke up, and although I have some fond memories, I also have plenty of memories to remind me how unsuited FID and I were to each other.

FID is now a politician. He is a member of parliament in another state. He is, in fact, a Minister for Rhubarb and Codswallop (can't get too specific here, for fear he, or someone he knows, discovers this blog!). He is married, with children. I have spoken to him a handful of times since we split up - always on friendly terms, but never with much sense of connection. We have taken different pathways in life; we have differing priorities.

Not so long ago, FID telephoned me at work, wanting to meet for coffee. He was in my city for an important meeting. He sounded lonely and wistful. He wanted to meet that day, despite the fact that I was at work. He seemed strangely unable to grasp the fact that I couldn't simply drop everything and come to see him. "Don't you have have any spare appointment times?", he queried persistently. "I'm meeting Neil & Ruth for dinner, then I have to fly home tomorrow".

I politely explained that I was fully booked, and had appointments scheduled all day. I suggested that maybe next time he was going to be in town, he could let me know in advance!

"Oh, right", he sighed. He seemed to grasp about listlessly for conversation. "So, you're working as a GP then?".

"Yes. I work two days a week", I explained. "It's good. I really enjoy it".

"So...... are you going to specialise?", FID asked.

I felt a rising irritation. Why do so many people assume that GPs are failed specialists? It's insulting, especially to those of us who thought long and hard before choosing general practice as our life's vocation, and to those of us who have done the post-graduate degree in general practice.

I took a deep breath. "No, " I replied patiently. "I like working as a GP. I don't want to look at eyes all day, or hearts, or skin. I like seeing whole families; I like trying to figure out what is wrong with patients of all ages, from all walks of life." Inwardly, I wondered if the question he'd asked was entirely innocent. After all, I have been working as a GP for more than ten years. If I was planning on specialising, surely I would have done so by now. Perhaps FID felt I should have done something more spectacular with my life, like, say, become a renowned brain surgeon, or maybe a Nobel-prize-winning physicist, or ...... a Minister for Something Important?

"Oh, right", FID murmured, disinterested. We talked a few more minutes, and then I had to excuse myself to call my next patient.

That night I told my husband Fatty of the conversation. We marvelled at the social ineptitude of this 'politician', this 'man of the people'. Because although I believe FID to be a good man, with honourable intentions and strong principles, I don't think he is man who truly likes people in a general sense. I think he likes some select people, but I don't get a sense of him caring about we Australians, all us 'great unwashed'. It seems he respects high achievers more than people in general. And if his words to me that day were any indication, he doesn't always stop to consider how his comments may affect others.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I'm not really annoyed with FID anymore. The more I think about it the more I feel a bit sorry for him. Our mutual friend tells me FID has no friends to speak of. He hinted that all was not well in FID's marriage. And all FID talks about is his next step up the political ladder.

Once FID told me that the worst thing about being a polititian was having to listen to his constituents talk, whilst pretending to be interested in them. If only he knew how that remark made me cringe. I pictured all those men and women, earnestly expressing their hopes and fears, with FID nodding seriously, as he inwardly wondered whether to have a pie or a smoked salmon bagel for lunch.

My husband doesn't address auditoriums full of people, he doesn't wear snazzy suits, he barely manages to get a haircut 4 times a year. He does not grace the pages of the newspaper and he's uncomfortable at parties. Yet he's kind and respectful to all, and never hints that I am anything less than what he's always dreamed of. He is the kind of man I imagined loving. And, here he is, right now, in our kitchen, loading the dishwasher. I need to go kiss him this minute.....