Infections can creep inside

There’s a tension in his voice that suggests annoyance. More than that it suggests irritation. A quiet brewing discomfort that anything might be wrong and might need some effort. Or I’ve got something wrong and should better understand, in his mind at least.

This is the stuff that leaves me edgy in my gut.

It’s been such a holiday, five days caught up in someone’s else’s discomfort.

A time of troubled rows and deep discontent when all I hoped for was rest. Jig saw puzzles and walks with the dogs. 

We have a run of water coming down the left side of our house which my husband tells me is caused by our neighbour’s blocked stormwater drain. Some time ago someone approached him and asked if our drains could unite but he refused. It would cause an overload, he said. 

I’m left wondering is that the neighbourly thing to do? 

But I don’t want to upset any carts of apples in our otherwise already unsettled household. 

After all, he’s just out of hospital after a foor day stint in solitude to tackle an infection, one that gave him a fever. 

Any person over sixty-five, the emergency doctor told us on Thursday, the night of the Last Supper in Catholic terms, must go into isolation and be tested for Covid. So now two members of my immediate family are among the numbers tested for the virus who turn out not to be so inflicted.

My husband came out clean four days layer and with his urinary tract infection in check. But it’s been quite the drama.

Now it’s over, we settle back into ordinary social isolation, again. Not the enforced one that required me to gown up every time I visited my husband in hospital, mask, gown, goggles and blue rubber gloves.

At least they left my feet alone. Elsewhere, I understand people also cover their shoes in protective gear to keep the virus out.

Like many people, I wake up most mornings and wonder, is it still here or can we go back to days not punctuated by such abstinence. By avoidance of others, in a world marked by fear. And every morning I recognise, we’re still in the thick of it.

People have their plague stories from the past. Mine comes in the form of a memory.

I was playing over the road from where we lived in the Canterbury Road house of one of the kids from our neighbourhood. We played with dolls in her back garden. A garden that abutted her house whose front was a shop window. And whose middle was a shop storage space and loungeroom of sorts, kitchen, bathroom and two small bedrooms where my friend and her parents slept.

On this day, spring had arrived in their back garden and the air was thick with jasmine which crawled in tendrils over the side paling fence. 

Deep in play, dressing and undressing dolls and having them undertake the daily activities of their imagined lives, my friend’s mother’s words came as a shock.

‘You have to go home,’ she said’ ‘Your sister is ill. They’ve taken her in an ambulance.’

I hesitated too long before putting down my doll.

‘Go now,’ my friend’s mother said, anxious to get me out of her house.

As I made my way through the front of her shop out onto the street I over heard her say to her husband who stood at the counter of his shop ready to serve the next customer, and fearful perhaps there would be no more customers if word got out. 

‘It could be polio.’

This was in the early sixties well after the polio epidemic had left its mark on people the world over. 

Turns out my sister had developed rheumatic fever. They sent her to the Fairfield Infectious Diseases hospital where she stayed for several months while they worked to get her infection under control. 

Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, more or less abandoned, today

My sister went there as my older brother had gone earlier, he too suffering from rheumatic fever that later developed into osteomyelitis.

Rheumatic fever involves bacteria creeping into your heart. Osteomyelitis into your bone marrow. 

I do not know the whys and wherefores, only I have heard the prevalence of rheumatic fever is greater in communities of indigenous people, or in places where people live close together, often in squalor. 

Ours was not entirely a life of squalor, but nine children in a four bedroom house with two parents must have been tight.

My husband’s brother also developed rheumatic fever when he was a child and their family only had six children, but again in tight spaces. The number of children uncontrolled given contraception was prohibited in Catholic families.

Yesterday, I overheard Emily Maguire talking about her book on the history of certain poorly recognised feminists.

How sometime, soon after Federation in Australia, our forefathers gathered together because they were alarmed at the drop in the birth rate. They held one of those enquiries, a Royal Commission of sorts and interviewed some 96 witnesses, 95 of whom were men.

Needless to say, they came to the conclusion at the end of their deliberations that the drop in the birth rate occurred because women were selfish. Because women had discussed among themselves ways of reducing their chances of endlessly falling pregnant.

This was a problem for the community in the early nineteen hundreds because the country needed a population. 

Ever since the story of Adam and Eve, women are to blame.

I prefer to blame patriarchy which is more of a system than a person or even a gender. It’s a way of being that presupposes the superiority of one group over another. And will always lead us into trouble. 

Even in a time of Covid, the inequalities are writ large. 

Those already under the pump are even more so, forced into further abjection because the system is built to uphold the strong and leave the vulnerable behind. 

It’s not just individual, but is inherently unfair. 

And so it was ever thus. 

Did the virus take them?

In the middle of the night last Friday, the power went off. The luminous numbers on my clock radio disappeared, the flashing lights from the modem and internet connector boxes stopped and our house was in darkness. 

I checked the circuitry as I’d seen my husband do two days earlier when the same thing happened, only that time we were awake.

The same faulty section of the fuse box, the same disrupted circuit, which meant at least that electricity to the kitchen fridge and freezer stayed on.

In the morning, we began the slow process of switching off all appliances, pulling out plugs to find the culprit.

With no success.

Hopefully tomorrow, my nephew an electrician, might arrive with his tool bag and fix the problem. 

In the meantime, we have extension leads running up and down the hallway attaching to the various computers we use in this part of the house. 

This way at least, despite the partial power outage, we remain connected. 

A day without internet is hard enough. A day without a computer is ten times worse.

Almost as bad as the endless days ahead where we find ourselves confined to home. Though occasional walks for exercise are still allowed. 

Is this practice for old age? 

My mother in her final years spent almost every hour in her small room in the retirement village where she lived out the last fifteen years of her life. 

In the early days, when she occupied a small semi-detached unit, a one-bedroom brick veneered box, set among fifty or other similar boxes, she went out regularly for shopping, to visit friends, and to join social functions at the centre. 

After she hit ninety and began to slow down, she abandoned her mechanised travel chair and resorted to the dreaded four-prong stick to stagger along the corridors of her retirement village, back and forth from her single room for lunch and dinner and occasionally to see the local doctor who came into the retirement complex every week. 

My mother claimed to enjoy this life. She enjoyed the view from her chair onto a small courtyard lush with rose bushes and plum trees. 

My mother in her favourite seat , from where she once viewed her world.

In spring, a mother duck and her several babies took up residence in the courtyard year after year and the staff obliged by putting out one of those shell shaped blue children’s wading pools to give the illusion of a pond. 

The ducks took it in turns to swim around the narrow perimeter and in time the concrete on which the pool rested grew white with their droppings. 

My mother loved these ducks. The way they signified the passage of the seasons, cocooned inside her little room, surrounded by the memorabilia of her life. 

I thought of her again this morning when I began to consider the slowing down of old age, not that I’m there yet, not slowed down that is, despite my years.

This virus that coats our every thought gives rise to grim thoughts on the possibility of an earlier death, our own or that of others. 

It is as if no other form of dying exists.

We read the newspapers and when we learn yet another celebrity or dignitary has died, the first thought to come to mind: Did the virus take them?

Beyond the thoughts, we enter into survival mode. One day at a time. One week at a time.

And look forward to the other side, that foreign country, a future without the virus.