July 2014 archive

A heart simpatico with mine

A couple, found dead in their car
this morning, were in their mid twenties, the newsreader said. They had parked
in bushland outside of Ballarat, a town renowned for its winter cold.  It seems the couple had been asleep
in their car where they tried to stay warm with heat from the running engine whose
fumes had overcome them along with their now dead dog.
My mother complained of cold
yesterday, too, when the physiotherapist, all blond hair and youth, asked if my
mother wanted to show her and her companion, the occupational therapist, how
she could sit on the edge of her bed. 
‘No,’ my mother said.  ‘It’s too cold.’
And why did they want her to sit anyway?
my mother asked. 
The OT explained how they needed to
get my mother up and moving to get her circulation going, and her lungs clear
with breathing and exertion.
‘You don’t want to get a chest
infection, do you?’
My sister and I stood at the foot
of our mother’s hospital bed and watched. 
I felt the urge to pitch in and help but these two young women had a system
for moving my mother and it was best not to interrupt. 
My mother’s body in her blue
striped hospital gown had shrunk, apart from her swollen belly, swollen through
an attack of pancreatitis.  Apparently,
there is not much the doctors can do for my mother’s condition now other than
offer relief.  The gallstones that block
her pancreatic duct cannot be removed through surgery or laser because of my
mother’s age and so it is a matter of time before she cops another attack. 
In the meantime, we try to keep her
comfortable and work out where to next.
Yesterday, the social worker
reassured my sister and me that nursing homes are not as they were in the past; not urine
soaked wards filled with withered bodies in single beds, and old people, mainly
women, languishing there. 
Staff in nursing homes are equipped
to assist people like my mother who cannot help themselves.  They have hoists above the beds for
lifting. 
For a long time now we have
promised our mother that when it comes time for her to die, we will do our best
to ensure it happens in her beloved retirement village room. 
But our mother is in this in
between place it seems, neither palliative nor able bodied enough to get back
to her retirement village, even with extra assistance.  Once a person is palliative and confined to
bed there is no further need for lifting and getting into chairs or onto
walking frames.  In that case she could go home to die.
I asked my mother if she thinks
about dying.  ‘All the time,’ she
said. 
I think about what it will be like,
but I never was a worrier.  What comes,
comes.  So we wait.’ 
My mother is sanguine when left
alone dozing in bed but as soon as a nurse comes to take blood and cannot find a
vein, or a physio arrives to test my mother’s mobility, she gets distressed
such that I cannot not believe her mantra about not worrying. 
Pain causes her to worry despite
her optimism.
I had another rejection for my book
yesterday.  I want to say nothing about
this to anyone. I want to hide the wound inside until the next time I try again
in the hope that someone will see merit in my writing and undertake to
publish my book, but the rejection sticks in the back of my mind and will not
release me. 
I flit from the thought that I
should shelve my book.  After four
rejections, it’s not working, to another thought: the people who have rejected
my book are not interested in my writing because they doubt its commercial
value. They doubt that it will attract a broad enough readership.  Fair enough. 
I have similar doubts, but then I think there’s a market out there
somewhere for a book like mine. 
I broke up with a boyfriend once
many years ago.  He was a stevedore who
worked with the large transport ships that docked in Port Phillip Bay.  He had come to Australia from South Africa
where his wife, whom he had one day caught in bed with another man, had
betrayed him.
He was a damaged soul, I reasoned,
and one in need of all the love and care I could offer.  But he offered little care or love in
return.  In time, I asked for more but he
stonewalled.  He was not interested in
feelings, his, or mine or anyone’s. So I left him alone in his second floor
kitchen in the St Kilda apartment that he shared with another man and never saw
him again. 
In those days I lived in Caulfield
in a flat, which I shared with a younger sister.  We had next to no furniture apart from a
couch and television, the two beds in which we slept, a laminated kitchen table and four chairs.  We were young, though
not as needy as the couple in Ballarat.
Every Saturday I took my load of
washing, sheets, towels and clothes to the laundromat nearby in Inkerman Street.  On this day, not long after I had broken off
with my stevedore, I had the thought that somewhere out there I was sure there
beat a heart simpatico with mine. 
Could not the same be true of a
publisher, a publisher with a heart in sync with mine? 

And in the meantime, I rattle
through my life, attend to my family, my work, and along with my mother, I
wait. 

In the middle of the night

This morning I was folding the thick blanket I
use at night when I skulk off to the spare room to escape my husband’s snoring, when he walked by.  
‘Your swaddling clothes?’ he joked,
an awkward joke because my husband hates that he snores and keeps me awake. 
It troubles him but it seems he can
do little about it. 
In the middle of the night, I’m fit
to throttle him, but by morning I’m sanguine.  It’s okay I reckon.  I can handle it and at least I have another
room to which I can escape. 
Before you go on about the things
my husband should have checked out: sleep apnoea and the like; lying on his
side and not his back; less red wine; I will tell you the point of my telling
you this as it enters my mind. 
The point has to do with love and
hate and how in the middle of the night when my deepest vulnerabilities are
unleashed I can feel murderous towards he who stops me from rolling back into
blissful sleep when in the morning and as the day progresses I feel no such
rage at all. 
Similarly, when I visit my mother
who is back in the Dandenong hospital, her second visit this year, this time
with pancreatitis, I can overlook all the rage I have felt towards her over the
years, especially when I see her shrunken form under a shroud like sheet and she smiles with pleasure to see me.  
She smiles in the same way for all of her
visitors when we arrive but I reckon there is something in that smile that
belongs especially to me, or should I say to all of us who once were her
babies. 
Dandenong hospital is a huge block
like structure that sits square on flat bare land not far from the intersection
of a freeway and a highway on the edge of west Dandenong. 
The section in which they have put
my mother is newly built but there’s an older part where she’s been in the
past that’s less welcoming.  Not that
hospitals are ever welcoming, at least not to me with their machines and
sterilising hand soap dispensers on every corner. 
They remind you of the dangers that
lurk in all the germs that could possibly exist in wait for us as frail human
beings. 
Hospitals are unsafe places as far
as germs are concerned but this time my mother is happy to be there.  Before she arrived she was in such pain and
now at least they have overcome her initial distress and they have offered her
a single room and so she can sleep and open her eyes to the mandatory visits
from nurses and doctors for inspection and procedures, and otherwise she smiles
at her visitors and then sleeps some more.
My own sleep was interrupted so
many times last night that I do not feel well rested.  A crick in my hip after I experimented last night with
sitting in one of our lounge chairs, side on, the way my daughter sometimes
sits.  I’ve pulled a muscle and then a
throbbing in my head in the middle of the night signalled for a few minutes the approach of a brain haemorrhage. 
In the middle of the night it gets hard
to convince myself I am not dying.  I
chide myself for such hypochondriacal delusions.  It is a feature of aging perhaps, but also a
feature of personhood. 
I have held similar fears for as long
as I can remember.  When I was as young as
ten years of age I lay in my bed one night in wait for my older sister to come to bed and felt a strange twinge in my stomach such that by the time my sister
arrived I had convinced myself I had stomach cancer. 
It was no small coincidence perhaps that my
grandmother had died of stomach cancer a few years before and I had heard about
cancer from the television, only the tell take signs, ‘a lump or thickening in
the breast or elsewhere,’ the manly voice-over said as various bits of lumpy
skin appeared on the screen and a woman clutched at her body in search of
signs. 
And later as a twenty something
year old, I left the university one day convinced that I was about to die of
another form of cancer for the lump that appeared on the top of my foot near my big toe.  A ganglion, the doctor soon told me, one we leave alone or in the olden days cured by dropping a bible onto
the lump. 
All these ailments that left me
imagining my death would come soon.  
My
mother’s death still waits for her but she does not want to die yet.  Not till she reaches one hundred.  
This is the third time we have had such a
time as we imagined our mother was about to leave us only to watch her rally again.
A cat with nine lives I wrote in an
email to my several sisters and brothers, the night when I thought her death
might come soon, she had looked so ill that day. 
And every time my mother survives,
despite my mixed feelings towards her I am relieved.  Not simply for her, but for me that I can put
my own death on the back burner while I must still deal with hers. 
All of which is a nonsense.  Children predecease their parents, but not in
my imagination, at least not for me.  My
mother must go first. 
And then I read a comment from
Karen who travels under the name ‘Anonymous’, a name I once assumed belonged to
a famous poet because that fellow Anonymous had written so many poems in my
anthology of poetry. 
Karen talks of sitting at her dying
husband’s bedside and I’m struck by the thought it must be worse by far to lose
your partner than your parent in adulthood, for all the mixed feelings in the
middle of the night when he keeps you awake with his snoring. 
My heart goes out
to Karen. 

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