Not another Covid-19 story

This has to be the worst of times, certainly not the best. Not only for me and mine. For you and yours. For everyone on this planet. It’s hard to think or talk about anything else. Conversations focus on one topic only. 

When I was little and first heard the word ‘germs’, those tiny microbes that live in the air unseen by human eyes, those pesky things that can slip into your mouth when you least expect or scoot into your blood stream through a cut or broken skin, I took comfort from the idea that the germs that travelled around in my body were the same as the germs that travelled around in the bodies of my parents and siblings. 

Therefore, I imagined it was okay for me to share my cup with my sister, my knife with my brother, my toothbrush need not be reserved for me alone. 

This loose view of germ transmission has stayed with into adulthood, but I’ve had to revise it of late.

When I read my children the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, that beloved soft toy of a small boy named which in my memory was lost or contaminated with the scarlet fever germ and had to be destroyed, I was relieved we were past such epidemics. 

Such stories muddle around in my head along with the nursery rhyme Ring a ring a roses, a tishoo, atishoo, we all fall down. 

I only discovered the significance of that story, again a response to some other epidemic in adulthood. Likewise, when you sneeze and someone responds with ‘God bless you’.  

God bless you presumably because your sneeze signifies disease and potential death. 

Scary times from the past are with us now fierce and ferocious and getting worse. 

I tell myself to take it one day at a time. I tell myself to stay calm and sensible. Not panic. But from time to time the daydream turns into a nightmare. 

Someone in my household cops it and we’re confined to barracks. Not only that, the contaminated one must stay away from the non-contaminated ones to prevent the spread.

How to divide up the house such that the sick person can have space enough not to go mad in isolation but also so that others can manage to share the house but also in isolation.

Then the fantasy shifts again, and I’ve copped it. The hospitals are too full to take me in and I must die at home alone. 

When I broke my wrist and the ward assistant wheeled me into the prep room to wait for surgery the surgeon was delayed. I did not know why. No one spoke to me. They left me in this barn-like room with a series of beds side by side.

A young woman was later wheeled in, her family gathered around her bedside. She was distressed and wanted to go to the toilet. Her husband and a nurse accompanied her. Their English was marked with thick accents and I had the sense they were in a foreign place.

Just as I was in this foreign place even as I spoke the same language as the nurse. 

I waited and waited. The young woman and her entourage moved on, she to surgery, me to wait.

And I continued to wait. An hour passed. I knew from the television screen propped on a wall to my right.

I watched a series of David Attenborough films. I watched in horror as this young lizard popped out from the ground, a hatchling that skittered across the sand as a string of black slithering snakes circled around one another, around and around in sideways motion. 

They tried to engulf the lizard which time and again managed to escape. I held my breath as the tiny creature slipped out from under the coils of snakes and raced up to higher ground under rocks and out of sight, free at last. 

I started to cry. Quiet tears of desperation, tears of not knowing what was happening to me. When I would go to surgery. I worried for my family. I worried they might worry that I had not yet come back to them to report the surgery was over and all was well. I worried that all might not be well.

A nurse came by and noticed my distress.

‘The surgeon’s been delayed,’ she said. ‘The man before you broke both his wrists in a fall and one of them is proving more complicated. Not long now.’

To know the reason for the delay brought relief but not enough to get past my anxiety as they wheeled me into theatre. Just as the anaesthetist jabbed my arm, I heard the nurse administering the drip, 

‘Your blood pressure is over 200,’ she said.

What was I do to do? What could I say beyond a feeble apology,

‘I’m sorry about that’?

Then I was waking up with my wrist in plaster and my head filled with the cotton wool of anaesthesia. 

I dislike hospitals at the best of times. We need them though. 

Especially now.

I’m glad my mother is no longer alive to live through such times. The worst and the best. 

The contagion of dogs, siblings, and a mind that wanders

My daughter bought a dog pram online.  Akin to a baby’s pram, but it’s far more lightweight with minimal suspension but good enough for our dog.

The dog can still walk but long trips are problematic, so we put him in the pram, wheel him around for the best part of the journey, and then let him out once we reach the leash-free park for several minutes’ freedom before returning him to the pram and the homeward journey. 

The first time I took him out I felt a fool. A crazy dog person. It’s amazing the novelty value of a dog in a pram. People in cars slow down and stare. People walking past stop and comment. 

It feels strangely decadent, like the wealthy folk taking their dog’s needs to extremes.

The dog has a problem with his cruciate ligament that is temporarily aided by regular three monthly injections and some other concoction for his arthritis but when the medication wears off he begins to limp and in time refuses to put any weight on his left hind leg. It’s grown thin and wasted through lack of use.

I do not want to write about dogs per se, but dogs are a conduit to other feelings and thoughts. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons people admire them so. Dogs offer access to ourselves, to raw emotions we might prefer to ignore.

Dogs also cop our projections. 

When people use the term, ‘a dog’s life’, it carries two connotations.

One a life of leisure, always being cared for, never having to fend for themselves except maybe in the park in the presence of other dogs in play, but otherwise a life of bliss. 

The other connotation is that of servitude. A life treated as a lesser being, made to do whatever your owner requires of you. A life dripping with other people’s needs, expectations and desires. 

In two week’s time, I will risk a weekend plane trip to Newcastle to stay overnight with at least six of my siblings on what we now call our annual family reunion. The ordinary risks of flying are exacerbated by the presence of the coronavirus in our community and beyond if I am to believe all the hype in the newspapers.

It’s not the virus that stirs me so much as the thought of time spent with my siblings. Such time recreates something of the sensation of my childhood, something of the helplessness I felt when I was small surrounded by so many bigger brothers and a sister, and at the head of the three youngest.

I grew up in both worlds, a big person, as the oldest of the last four, and a little one, the youngest of five. 

I learned how to live in the company of these people, my siblings, many of them strangers to me now beyond our annual get together. We rarely speak and the idea of each one as we once were years ago as children, gets stuck in my mind, as I imagine I do in theirs. 

I have a photograph on my desktop of the nine of us taken the last time we were all together, on that very first family reunion ten years ago in Griffith New South Wales.

We try to meet in places between Melbourne and Queensland to make it equally difficult for everyone to get there so that no one is favoured by the ease of travel.

Rather like people meeting in cafes rather than on each other’s home turf to minimise the possibility of power imbalances. Or that’s my take on it. 

Newcastle. A long way to travel for dinner. But still. We do these things in honour of connection.

I had so looked forward to this morning knowing that there would be no one else in the house and only one dog left behind. My children took the younger dog away overnight and my husband is out walking with a friend. 

It’s quiet and I’m free to write as I please. But my mind’s a jumble of disparate thoughts and every road I travel down leads to cul de sacs of inconsequence, so I start again.

A friend pinned the picture of a dignitary from the military on the inside door of the toilet in their shared house in Fermanagh Road where my husband once lived. In the days before I met him. 

They reckoned it was a dead ringer for him. I could see the resemblance too when I first used the toilet, the steady eyes but by the time I first met him, my husband had shaved off his moustache. I prefer my men clean haven. Not that he took it off for me. 

It’s another image I keep on my desk, a reminder of days gone by when my husband had ambitions to become a senior public servant, a title that to him spelled dignity and promise.

My mind fell on the word ‘servant’ and I could think of nothing worse. But my husband was a man of action, a man who liked order and certainty. The public service in those days suited him, but that was before the politics of the day and the politics of personality crammed in and he changed his course in a commercial direction that left him less prey to politics but still subject to the demands of capitalism and greed, which took its toll in a large corporate law office that gave him a heart attack in his fifty-fifth year.

I find myself skimming over surfaces, reducing events to grand gestures, into writing that leaves me wondering why I am writing any of it. 

My heart is not in these words. I’m trying to find a spark of interest but my head is too full of present concerns. And as well, the deodorant I put on yesterday, the one that advertised itself as free from aluminium, has worn off. 

Until I have a shower I can smell myself in a way that leaves me unsettled, as if I am a wet dog in need of a bath.