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. 

2 thoughts on “Infections can creep inside”

  1. The first person whoever “claimed” me at school—I’d be seven at this point—was about two feet tall and wore a leg brace because he’d had polio when he was wee by which I mean wee’er. Of course I didn’t fight him. I stopped him landing punches but I simply couldn’t hit him back. Of course you never hear of polio these days. Nor have I ever heard of anyone with rheumatic fever. As a kid I had meningitis (the bad kind) and three years later my brother had meningitis (the not-quite-so-bad kind). I was isolated. He was not. Some of my earliest memories are from that time so I guess it was pretty traumatic. I remember my parents peering through the window outside my room. Just as well I was on the ground floor. My brother was in a ward with others and I do have a vague memory of walking into it to see him. Three years later my sister did not get meningitis but they watched her like a hawk anyway.

    Neighbours then. I think I’ve lived in eleven different houses over the years. I can’t say I ever got close to any of them until we moved here and the girl next door started a-knocking. Now she’s moved but she still owns the flat and I have her e-mail address and phone number. She’s the only one of my neighbours to step inside my house in almost fifteen years. When I was wee old Mrs Sommerville from two doors down would just march into Mum’s kitchen unannounced. Different times. Mum hated it but was too polite to make a fuss.

    On the whole I don’t much care for my neighbours. We’re the most disparate bunch. Let’s see, we have a young single guy who my wife suspects is gay but I can see no evidence one way or another, a big Asian family with a baby, a married lesbian couple, a pensioner (who’s also an American), a single mother with a black teenage daughter, a couple living in sin with a prepubescent boy, a married couple with (we think) a deaf kid and I’m not sure who lives in the flat opposite them. Some have cars. Most do not. Three have dogs. One has a bird. When she was still living here the girl next door was our rallying point being outgoing and a bit of a go-getter but since she’s left it’s kind of fallen to me to keep people appraised of what’s happening and I’d really not. All through my life I’ve ended up being the guy in charge and never wanted it.

    We’ve heard nothing about testing locally and even if tests become available I’m not sure we’d bother. We’re safe in the flat and aim to stay safe. If a reliable vaccine appears then we’ll see.

    1. It’s a weird time, Jim. Even now as I type, I develop this sniffly nose and start to panic in a way I never would. And mostly our neighbours are people we’ve seen and known for years so I tend not to worry about them. Strange times indeed. Thanks, Jim.

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