Archive of ‘Life’ category

A short history of hospital

In 1975, in the months after I first met my husband, he was admitted to Cabrini Hospital in Malvern, for elective surgery on his hand.

He told me the story then of how he had suffered an injury on the football field years earlier when he dislocated his thumb.

It popped back into place but was extremely painful at the time and then made worse when one of his teachers, a Christian Brother, decided my husband had been insolent one more time than was tolerable.

Out to the front and hands out, palms up for a caning, only this time the impact of the leather strap on my husband’s then adolescent upright palm set the dislocation from a temporary ailment into one that was fixed.

Thereafter, whenever my husband so much as picked up a bottle or some other heavy object, his thumb slipped out of place.

In that same year 1975, his doctor told my then husband-to-be, he needed surgery to correct the damage.

And so it was for the first time, I found myself visiting my new boyfriend in Cabrini Hospital.

On each of my visits, he joked about turning the picture of the founder of the nuns who then ran the hospital, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, to face the wall. And whenever he did so, another nun walked by and turned it back.

In those days, rules were strict, visiting hours were absolute and a trip to the hospital, even for a non-patient, was quite the ordeal.

In 1975, my husband was hospitalised for only a few days and glad to be released.

Nine years later, I was back in this hospital as a patient myself to have our second child, and since then two more. (The first was born at Margaret Coles House, the maternity wing of the Alfred Hospital, which closed down years ago.)

Life in a maternity ward is different from life in a general ward or any other ward at Cabrini.

In 2004, during a routine colonoscopy at Cabrini, my husband suffered a heart attack and wound up in the cardiac unit there. He did well, recovered and many years have passed until a couple of weeks ago.

A bug crept inside my husband’s body and made its way into and through his blood stream in search of vulnerable places, including an old shoulder wound from over thirty years ago when my husband hurt his rotator cuff.

The wound healed but the scar tissue, or whatever developed there, was a good place for this bug to visit.

It also travelled in search of metal. At least that’s what the doctors said. In this instance, the leads to his pace maker.

This time two weeks ago my husband was still home but beginning to feel ill. He had not slept for three nights.

‘Bed rest and Panadol and in time it’ll settle down’, the weekend doctor had said.

But two days later, we visited my husband’s regular doctor and the situation became more worrying as she took blood tests, which picked up that the enzymes for his heart markers had risen.

Off to hospital he should go.

That Tuesday, I dropped everything in the form of babysitting my two grandsons after school, left them home with their dad, and took off to pick up my husband from home and then on to Cabrini, a trip we’ve made so many times before.

It has taken since then for staff to diagnose the nature of the infection, a common garden-variety bacterium.

It lives in all of us, in our noses, our ears, our eyes, on our skin and is fine, but not if it gets inside your bloodstream.

Hence the need for those fierce antibiotics.

Bucket loads of antibiotics and in time all will be well.

I measure our visits to Cabrini as markers along our lifetime.

A dislocated thumb, the birth of babies, and a heart attack, followed by a bug invasion. There was also the time I broke my leg in 2010 and spent three ghastly nights in Cabrini.

I have written about this elsewhere.

And the picture of the founder of the nuns no longer graces the individual ward walls, only one huge image in the foyer.

While a crucifix still finds its place high above my husband’s bed, a reminder of his location.




When did it begin, this tilt towards jealousy, looking over my shoulder at the one who’s doing better?

My mother told the story of how when I was three, toddling alongside her my baby sister in the pram, people stopped to admire this most beautiful baby, her dark curls and blue eyes and my mother came to feel sorry for the way they overlooked me.

A beautiful baby gurgling in a pram is hard to resist. A toddler walking alongside less prepossessing.

Did I first feel the sting of not being good enough then?

Did I first feel a pressure towards needing to be beautiful in order to be admired or did it come later with my mother’s insistence on my best features, my pearl shaped ear lobes and perfect eyebrows?

‘You take after our father,’ my sisters and brothers said and our younger sister after our mother.

We all knew our mother was a beauty. Her movie star photos in pride of place from the days before she and my father married. Slick movie star type images from the 1930s even during the war wars when professional photographers who occupied the streets of Amsterdam and set up shop on the main street tried to emulate the glamour of Hollywood and even the plainest of women could be made to look like Ava Gardner.

My mother did not need much help in this direction. Her natural appeal was enough and along with her success at making children, my mother considered her skin, her blue eyes and glossy black curls to be her greatest assets.

Even as they turned to grey and her face grew more sallow with age, once she stopped sunbaking for fear of cancer, my mother knew how to pout for the camera while I clinched my lips tight to stop the image of my crooked teeth taking centre place.

Was this where it all began?

And did it shift from the external image to internal attributes such as intelligence when I learned early on that I lacked the brains of my brothers, most of my brothers that is, with one or two exceptions, the brains of the men in the house especially my father who could speak in six languages and could understand the vagaries of physics and name all the chemicals one after the other.

My brother above me, the family genius, my sister below me the family beauty and I in the middle grappling with my mediocrity in a way that dogs me even today, especially when I find myself competing in my head with those others who excel at things that matter to me, at the writing of books and words on the page.

It does help anyone to compare themselves favourably or unfavourably to others and yet I fall into this trap of comparison too often and once inside must find a way of ridding my mind of the green pus of self-loathing that infects my mood.

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