Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Three Things

1) A couple of weeks ago, I purchased some beautiful Christmas cards, in two different varieties. They are sparkling and pretty and very festive. I secreted them high up in the cupboard where I keep cards, ribbons and wrapping paper - safely away from peanut-buttery fingers and spilled cups of milk and cut-cutting scissors that cut my magazines I haven't even read yet. So there they sat, forgotten, but pristine, until today, when I went looking for a special card I'd put away to send to a friend.

Dazzle! dazzle! winked the cards. I smiled, and lifted them out in their two packs, admiring them all over again. I congratulated myself on my wise purchase, and sighed contentedly, pleased to think I had the Christmas card thing all sewn up. I stood there beaming, until a nasty niggly thought intruded upon my happiness, twisted and turned, then swelled and balloooned, until it exploded in my head like an egg in a microwave and I realised drat blast and bother! I still have to write on these things!

I know. You'd have thought that was obvious.


2) At work yesterday, I saw a darling old lady called Mrs B. She is warm, funny, anxious, hopeful and sad in turns. Her husband died earlier this year, and she misses him very much.

One of the things I like best about Mrs B is her humour. Her attitude to life could be summed up in the way she approaches her ailments: from time to time she tells me about a particular symptom, but then follows up with the disclaimer "I suppose it's nothing more than galloping old age!". Sometimes, I am able to suggest a remedy, while other times I am only able to suggest a way of easing her symptoms, but either way, Mrs B's laughter in the face of her grief and her health problems is so inspiring. 'Galloping old age' may test her endurance, but it has not dimmed her light.


3) Chin hair. (ah yes, stop reading now if you are squeamish about hair) We all have it, some more than others. Mostly males have more, females have less (see what I learnt at medical school? Incredible.). But somewhere around the age of 30, or was it 35? - my soft blond tiny chin hairs began to mutate, grew subtly longer, and then I grew a couple of strange wiry ones, which I pluck assiduously. That's all OK - I've discussed this with friends and they have a few chin hair issues, too - it's no biggie. Except something very worrying has happened now...... my prize chin hair has disappeared!!

I've been plucking the stubbly little sucker out every two or three weeks for months, and then out of the blue ...... nothing. No sign of it. No telltale roughness under the skin. No bump. No prickle poking through. Zip. Zero. Nothing for a few months now.

I'm worried it is growing darker, thicker, longer, hidden under the skin. I'm frightened that one day it will suddenly unfurl, in a great wave of horrendous hirsuite hairiness, rolling out and falling in a curling wave to my feet. I might even be in the middle of a consultation. Its extreme wiriness could knock the patient out of their chair; the hair might unroll itself into the patients nose while I'm examining their throat. This could be a disaster of momentous proportions.

Where's my chin hair?

I just want to know that it's safe to go out.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Something Cheery (for Isabelle!)

Here is what I learnt this week : A little kindness goes such a very long way.

There is a girl in my son's class called 'Daisy'. Daisy has an intellectual impairment, and struggles to write her name, to maintain attention, and to follow instructions. Daisy's mother, 'Jenny', often arrives a little late for school, with her baby strapped to her chest, her 3-year-old trailing by her side, and Daisy chatting loudly as she meanders into the classroom. Jenny always appears calm despite the chaos, has a smile for everyone, and I have never heard her lose her temper with Daisy. Jenny seems to have it all together, and speaks confidently to the teacher when she needs to discuss Daisy's progress. I can be a bit shy initially, and I am also often racing off to work in the mornings, so I have only spoken to Jenny a handful of times this year. I have enjoyed chatting to her, though, about school news, Daisy, or life in general.

Imagine my surprise to hear, from another doctor where I work (who sees Jenny and Daisy as her patients), that our conversations had meant a great deal to Jenny. Jenny told this doctor that many of the other mothers didn't speak to her, and that whenever Daisy 'acted up', Jenny felt embarrassed, and worried what those other mothers were thinking. The 6 or 7 conversations we'd shared, to Jenny, were worthy of mention because of how much better they made her feel. Astounding!

I was glad to have made a difference in Jenny's life, but at the same time I wished I'd started chatting to Jenny earlier in the school year, wished I'd spoken to her more often, wished I'd thought more about what it must be like for her dealing with the school community. I felt guilty that I'd done the bare minimum; I felt undeserving of her appreciation. The fact that a few conversations were so important to Jenny tells me she is not receiving the support she deserves.
However, this post is not about guilt, because whilst I regret not doing more for Jenny, I am kind enough to myself to know that I cannot be everything to everyone, can't save the world, can't be some sort of superwoman. If I had realised, I would have been more attentive to Jenny, but I didn't know.

What I do know is that I will go on from here trying to remember that everyone, for whatever their own reasons, and however outwardly poised they may appear, may be 'Jenny' - in need of conversation, a smile, a shared laugh. I'll keep in mind that a little kindness goes such a very long way.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

my sister's dog

His paws were enclosed in baby socks, and his honey-brown head lay sadly on the vet's examination couch. There was a pool of blood a palm's width across where his muzzle rested on the paper mat beneath him. Two clear tubes snaked into his nostrils, and a bag of fluid hung nearby, connecting into him. I expected I'd get teary but didn't expect I would lose the ability to speak altogether when I saw him. He's not my dog, he's my sister's. Was my sister's.

My sister called him Waltah. Not Walter, but Waltah, to reflect how she always said his name - in a mushy, silly, adoring way. We all teased her when she named her dog Waltah. But in the end, we forgot he had a silly name, and we came to love him for his adoring, affectionate ways, for his earnest obedience and for his doggy joie de vivre. Staffy dogs are the bomb. And he was a wonderful Staffy.

Yesterday, my sister's friend took Waltah for a short walk (my sister is overseas). Within minutes, Waltah began to pant heavily, and his breathing became laboured. The vet diagnosed heat exhaustion, and Waltah was cooled, given fluids and oxygen, was catheterised, plied with medications, and sedated. He rallied at first, but then his kidneys failed. After several hours, the vet told us Waltah could not survive this. A decision had to be made. Waltah looked exhausted. He turned his brown eyes my way and my sister's friend and I told the vet to go ahead.

First we held a mobile phone to his sweet doggy head and my sister crooned her love for her 'hairy child' (as she calls him) into his ear. We laughed at the ridiculousness of holding the phone up to Waltah while we cried at the sadness of my sister not being able to say goodbye in person to her beloved pup. His eyes stayed open as she talked to him, and I believe he heard my sister's voice. I hope it gave him comfort.

And then, as Waltah looked at us wearily, and as the vet pushed the plunger on the syringe, my sister's friend and I stroked Waltah's head and ears gently, and I told him, "Good boy Waltah, you're such a good boy." Because he was.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

writing a wrong

After two months of writing nothing more than a permission slip for a child's school excursion, I've noticed a restlessness begin to permeate my life. I'm edgy and unfocussed. I try to read but I lose interest. I watch TV but even my favourite show fails to fully entertain me. I accuse my husband of being grumpy, but perhaps it's me who is grumpy. Life is good, the sun is shining and the kids are blooming - all is well in my world. I just have this niggle I couldn't quite identify - until today. I realised I need to write.

I don't care who's reading this. I doubt anyone will still be reading here - why should they? I've been away such a long time in this fast-paced world. So it's not really with any audience in mind I write. I just need to write. I miss expressing myself, rendering experiences forever immortal on a page. I miss feeling that I have something worthwhile to say (whether this be true or not). I miss the fact that when I write here, I realise what I've been thinking and feeling more clearly than at any other time in my busy life.

Re-reading the above paragraphs, I'm aware I sound like a self-obsessed loser. And maybe that's true when it comes to writing. But in my defence, I do think of others throughout my day. I care for my family, I stay in touch with friends, I try to be a good listener at work. But writing is my little bubble, my refuge. I want to do more of it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

outback odyssey

We've been on a week's holiday in central western Queensland. I loved it all - the wildlife (we saw emus, kangaroos, wallabies, wild budgerigars, an echidna, a red-bellied black snake and even a reclusive platypus), the quaint little towns, the barren landscapes and the dinosaur remains, displayed in unassuming museums.

This is a photo The Birdman took of the wild budgies.

Here Laura and I are stretching our legs, on the way from Winton to Richmond ...... a rough and ready sort of road. In a few places we thought we were going to lose something crucial from the car's undercarriage! - but in the end we made it in one piece.

Ben and I inspected dinosaur bones in Winton. It's amazing that these priceless bones, from millions of years ago, are kept in this tiny, dinky-di display. It cost us $10 (for a family) to enter. The museum was staffed by volunteers, who also sold jam, crochet-edged tea towels and doilies on the other side of the room.

The shops were unbelievably cute! This one is in Richmond - a gorgeous little town.

This gorge (Porcupine Gorge) is to be found at the end of another dodgy road, and appears as if out of nowhere in the flat, dry landscape.

I know I'm biased, but I do love our country, with all its extremes of climate and landscape. And although I enjoy overseas travel, there is something celebratory and patriotic about travelling in your own country. Yay for the Aussie holiday!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


If you're looking to read about handcuffs, turn back now. This is not the post for you. I mean restraint in the sense of holding back, pausing before acting or speaking - not rushing in with an immediate reaction.

Restraint is not one of my better qualities. Those of you who read here regularly will have been subject to my lack of restraint at times, when I have commented on your posts with opinions or advice or 'helpful suggestions' which were, let's face it, unsolicited and possibly quite patronising. Not that I mean to be this way. It's just that lack of restraint kicking in. Where others might think to themselves, "Gee, I hope he/she does x, y or z. I'm sure they'll sort it out for the best", Jelly Overinvolved & Overopinionated will wade right in there and start rabbitting on about how what might help is to do x, y, and z, preferably simultaneously. I know, I know, it's not very attractive.

Because I am a godless heathen, and don't attend church or any other organised religion, I try to read books that remind me to keep working at my flaws. One such book I read about a year ago was Stephanie Dowrick's "Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love". It's a beautiful book, full of wisdom and compassion. There are chapters on courage, fidelity, forgiveness, generosity, tolerance..... and restraint. It's a shy, retiring type of virtue, and one I hadn't thought about much before. I mean, we all know about courage, about being faithful, about being generous .... but restraint? Isn't that kind of insipid? And is it really so important?

Lately I've become aware of my tendency to leap in and open my big mouth. I recently made a comment to a friend, querying a rule she had for her children which didn't make sense to me. And of course I had no right to. She is the parent of that child. I need to learn to shut up and butt out. I need to show restraint.

I've realised that when you care about someone, one of the most loving things you can do is to say nothing. You don't question their decisions unless they affect your own life in a significant way. You can listen, you can acknowledge a problem, you can offer empathy, but you don't need to offer advice. If you truly are a kind person, you show restraint. You hold your tongue. Where possible, you let others' mistakes go without comment, just as they let yours slip past. You don't say anything to cause unnecessary pain. It could be that restraint is, in its own understated way, the brightest jewel in the crown of virtues.

Which is something for me to consider while I'm restraining from eating a second scone.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

reality check

There's nothing like a kid to keep one's feet planted firmly on the ground.

My daughter, aged 8 1/2, turns to me as I prepare to read a chapter of 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' this evening:

"You're so beautiful Mummy" she sighs adoringly, and I smile because this means that at least one person in the world truly believes I am gorgeous, but then she adds, " ..... in your personality".


Friday, April 10, 2009

rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated

No, no, I'm not dead, nor am I depressed. I'm sorry this blog has been so dull lately. I imagine it sitting here meekly, quietly, like an untended garden, lying fallow. Perhaps no-one is even passing by anymore to notice all the brown, shriveled plants and the crumbly dry soil. Nevertheless. I am watering a little and turning over the soil with a shovel, huffing and puffing as I dig and even getting a small smile on my face. Ahhhhh! I do still like this garden.

My brother is still away. I hear his news regularly, and he is doing it tough. There have been casualties close to him. His job involves a huge amount of responsibility. He is working horrendous hours and he has lost a lot of weight. I don't know what he will be like when he comes home. I miss him.

My brother's wife is enduring his absence with a determined good cheer, which wavers only occasionally. There is so little I can do to help from afar, and I hate that she is dealing with their two small children, house and dog, as well as worrying about her husband and missing him terribly. This is the life of an military wife, but that doesn't make it any better. I am just thankful that my sister-in-law is such a capable and courageous woman.

My Grandfather has turned 95!

My daughter has asked me about s-e-x. I tried to get away with the old 'it's a sort of very tight cuddle' line, but was thwarted by her query, "And then what? Does anything else happen?". Dammit. So I briefly and simply explained the technical details, and then paused for her reaction. "Okay", Laura remarked calmly. I asked if she had any questions; was she worried about anything? Thoughtful gazing into mid-air....... "No." Frankly I was prepared for incredulity, disgust, gales of laughter, even abject terror. But I was forgetting this was my lovely, laid-back Laura.

My son has declared himself to be gay, over breakfast this morning. After some inquiry, I determined that he really loves his friend Harry, and he's heard that if you're a boy and you love another boy, then you're gay. I explained that if you're a boy and you love a boy in a romantic, want-to-kiss-on-the-lips sort of way, then you might be gay. Ben pulled a face and quickly amended, "No, no, then I'm not gay!". So the coming out party has been postponed for now.

My friend 'Chooky' is having a baby next month - her first, and possibly only, child. I am so excited for her, and I can't wait to meet her baby. There is no miracle like the miracle of new life.

I wish anyone ambling by this poor, overgrown & wilted blog a very HAPPY EASTER! May you find peace and love at every turn this Easter.

Friday, February 27, 2009

something beautiful

It has been fascinating and entertaining and heart-warming for me to 'meet', and converse with bloggers from around the world. I often take comfort from a wise post or comment, I frequently laugh, and I sometimes find myself covered in goosebumps, or close to tears ..... all on account of what others have written. It is a wondrous world out there, and I am now connected to many other people on this earth via the internet.

I met Heather via her blog almost 4 years ago now. What first drew me in was that the things she wrote about parenting just resonated with me so strongly. She sounded like a firm but fun mother. She knew when to enforce the rules, and when to throw them away (like taking her two boys out late to the first night of a long-awaited Harry Potter movie). She knew when to cuddle and pacify, and when to get tough. She sounded like the type of mother I aspired to be. We exchanged comments many times, we began e-mailing, and eventually we became friends. Real friends.

Heather has a best friend named Sharon - an artist who is becoming more and more sought-after. She has had several gallery showings, and in fact has one this weekend. And when Sharon saw a photo of my daughter (from a beach holiday late last year), she had the urge to paint the scene. I told her to go ahead, and was excited just to think she was painting a picture from a photo I'd taken.

And then she SENT me the original watercolour. It is beautiful.

But what is even more beautiful is the generosity of this gift. A woman whom I have never met, who lives on another continent, who knows me only a little, has sent this precious piece of art to me. There was no reason, there was no ulterior motive, she did not ask for any money (and I know for a fact she would have been insulted had I tried to pay). Sharon painted this and she gave it to me, simply because she wanted to make someone else happy.

Sometimes things get me down, sometimes I feel weary with life's trials and tribulations. But every day, if only I take time to notice, there are all sorts of kindnesses shown - thoughtful acts, warm words, or even simply the gentle overlooking of my mistakes by the people around me. I am surrounded by beauty.

I am so grateful not just for the painting, but also for the spirit in which it was given. Sharon, thank you.


Thank you also to everyone who offered words of empathy and encouragement in response to my last post. I was a little in the doldrums, and it meant a lot to me that so many of you took the time to verbally give me a boost out of the pit of self-pity I'd fallen into! Many thanks :-)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

the error of my ways

I haven't had much to say lately - mainly because my mind's been on other things; things I haven't wanted to talk about. I've been waiting until a cheery topic came along, but I've decided hang it all, I'll write about this.

I made a mistake at work. (Although it is by no means the first time, I still get a small lurch in my stomach just to write these words down.) It was not an error due to lack of care, or laziness. It was not even an error due to lack of knowledge - the type of faulty diagnosis that haunts my dreams some nights. No, this was a simple case of misremembering routine guidelines, getting muddled, being wrong. I gave a patient incorrect advice, telling him that certain steps were not necessary. Thank goodness, due to an inbuilt follow-up system, I discovered my mistake. I have contacted the patient, and revised my advice. I have taken the appropriate steps, and, although the results are not yet final, it seems that the end result for the man concerned will be unaffected. However. What scares me is not so much the consequences of this particular mistake (although I won't truly relax until I know the definite outcome for this patient), but rather the failure on my part. My brain let me down. My brain let this patient down. And however sweet anyone I've told has been - telling me I'm only human, I should forgive myself an honest mistake - the fact is, I did wrong by a patient. Their health could have been affected. It's one thing to be, say, a travel agent, and stuff up a hotel booking for a client, but its another altogether to mess with someone's life expectancy.

Rationally, I realise I cannot be perfect, and that I will inevitably make mistakes. But a voice from the centre of my being shouts You can't afford to make mistakes! Your patients trust you with their very lives!

So what is the solution? How do I make this better, how do I sleep at night? I have recalled all my patients with the same condition in the past year, to check that they have been correctly managed. I have talked over my medical misdemeanour with colleagues; I have confessed to friends. I have felt anxious and uptight and distracted and ashamed. In the end, I can do nothing. I can try to do better, to be more careful, to read more journals. I just try to let the anxiety wear away over time, wear thinner and thinner until it is as fine as gossamer and I barely notice it.

Until the next time.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

five senses on a Saturday

Overheard yesterday (a thirty-something woman talking on her mobile phone):
"Well, I knew this when I married him seven years ago!"

Spotted yesterday - a tiny tot down by the sea, skin brown as a berry, her hair the whitest platinum blond, wearing sequinned gold shoes.

Smelt yesterday - the briny sea air, blowing clean and cool in the late afternoon, despite the heat.

Tasted yesterday.... fresh crumbed fish and fat potato chips.

Touched yesterday - Fatty's warm hand in mine, as we walked out on the jetty, children charging ahead.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

couch potato goes too far

My day started rather oddly, with this single sentence emanating from my clock radio, as the alarm went off:

'A bloke in Britain survived more than two days under a couch by sipping from a bottle of whisky'.

That was it. The radio announcer must have just drawn breath to speak when my alarm went off, and although I fumbled to turn off the alarm, I finally pushed the 'silence' button right at the end of the announcer's sentence. If I was schizophrenic or psychotic, I'd have been convinced that someone was sending me disturbing messages through the airwaves. As it was, I pondered over this unusual pronouncement, as I changed into running shoes, T-shirt and shorts.

For starters, why was someone trapped under a couch? How does one get stuck there? Was the poor fellow reaching to remove a dust bunny he'd spotted, and then erk! his arm was irretrievably wedged? Was he passing the couch, which was propped against the wall to make the living room appear more spacious, when suddenly the couch slipped, pinning him to the floor? The mind boggles. (Certain types of getting stuck, on the other hand, are completely understandable)

And secondly, how would sipping whisky help one survive? I mean, I suppose it might help get you in a better mood. You could tell jokes to yourself, slap your leg as you snort laughed, and then hiccup softly as you dozed, forgetting you were in actual fact stuck under a couch - but apart from that? Surely the alcohol would dehydrate you? Perhaps the man survived despite the whisky, rather than because of it.

These questions and more tortured me as I prepared to go walking with my friend Belly. I shook my head in amazement just thinking about the couch-squashed man, as I latched the dog lead onto the beagle and went out the front gate. But then beautiful Belly arrived, all smiles and morning cheer, and we strode off into the day, leaving all thoughts of couch-dwelling whisky-swiggers behind.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

wild coastlines, wild animals and wild children

We've been away for a short break down the south coast of Australia, to spend time with Fatty's family. I've never been along the Great Ocean Road, and the scenery along there is superb.

Down on the beach, I found this very cute, fat-legged nephew creature. It made lots of noises such as 'Daddeeeeeee!' and 'Dat!' and it apparently does bite on occasion, but refrained from biting any of our family.

There was a sign up in this nature reserve, telling us that if an emu approached us aggressively, we should 'raise a hand above your head, so as to appear to be a larger emu'. Are emus really this clueless, that they would believe a middle-aged woman in a bright pink sweatshirt with her hand held up above her pink-hatted head was a very large emu? I didn't get a chance to find out, thankfully.

This Highlands Copperhead, a highly venomous snake, was peacefully sunning himself (herself?) by the side of the track. We said hello, but didn't stop to chat.

We made it home safely. No one was attacked (except Fatty on one occasion but does he think I'm his slave?). All's well that ends well.

Friday, January 09, 2009

finding the silver lining

This morning it occurred to be that although I can be a worrier, I'm probably not the closet pessimist I always thought I was.
I mean, would a true pessimist look at these skies......

...... and hang these clothes?..........

I think not.

P.S. It hasn't rained yet either!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

New Year

I find myself starting 2009 with a curious mixture of anticipation and trepidation. I'm looking forward to many things, and yet I am fearful of others. I am counting all my blessings, but looking over my shoulder as well. I know the anxiety is pointless, because 'que sera sera' - it's just how I am right now. I think having my brother in a war zone is messing with my head a bit. But he has made it in safely, and his position does not put him at the front line. Of course, I still worry.

It's been fun having time at home with my kids, as they enjoy their school holidays. Laura is drawing some fabulous, inventive pictures, and mucking about with plasticine. Benjamin is reading more every day, and watching documentaries about animals mating ('Whoops!' I thought as I actually watched to see what he was viewing. Thankfully, no pertinent questions followed). We all have fun playing soccer in the backyard, and playing 'Three of a Crime' (a card game) whilst lazing around on our living room rug.

Christmas was actually very easy this year - cold meats and salads, no fussing, no family tensions ..... lovely! My dear Fatty gave me a book on creative writing which I am devouring. It's amazing how some simple advice has made me want to write, write, write. I am scribbling away secretively. We shall see whether anything worthwhile comes out!

Now it is well and truly 2009. I hope you have all had some time to relax over the holiday season. Thank you for reading my blog and for all your kind, funny and interesting comments.

I wish you each a year full of happiness.