House wife’s curse and hand shoes

My fingers smell of rubber from the gloves I wore yesterday to clean out the toilets and three bathrooms in this house. There’s no one else to clean for me in this time of Covid and so I find myself reverting to earlier days when I took solace from dragging out the disinfectant and bleach, then soaping up the walls of the bath and shower recess to make them shine.

I took the greatest pleasure in stabbing at the black smear of mold that formed in the corners of every shower recess, ignored over time, and I scraped away till it too skipped off in sooty particles. 

Too many years of half-hearted cleaning by someone else means I can never get the bathroom back to its original newness but I can at least create an aura of cleanliness that pleases me in this time of the virus when people are still fearful, though less so in Australia when our daily infection tally is modest compared to elsewhere.

I wear the same rubber gloves when I complete a poo collection around the back garden picking up after the dogs have left their daily offerings. I do this every few days and fill a small bag with shit, a thing that once would have set my stomach roiling but now bothers me very little. 

The rubber gloves of my mind have created a type of immunity to the things that would have upset me in my youth.

I learned it from my mother. A type of stoicism, the sense that it has to be done, so do it. No point in being squeamish. 

When the skin specialist burns off a small spot on my leg that if left unattended could spread into something more sinister, I will watch the procedure. I will fix my eyes on his gloved hands and watch as he takes hold of the blue gun that reminds me of the machine my daughter uses when she blazes a caramelised coating on her crème caramel.

The skin specialist promises it will sting. The sting of the liquid nitrogen on bare skin. A pin prick of pain that lasts as long as he holds the zapper to my leg and then it’s over. 

I watch to harden myself against the pain. I watch to get a sense of what it’s like to watch a person inflict something harsh on another person. All for the greater good.

It would be different if I were in some sado-masochistic dance with a man who drew sexual pleasure out of inflicting pain on me. And I doubt I could do such a thing to myself.

The nurse manager who rang with the results of my biopsy, told me there are three possibilities in treating this Basel Cell carcinoma.

We can cut it out, the most invasive. We can burn it off or we can use an ointment another skin specialist introduced me to several years ago when I had a crazy case of irritation on my lip. A type of chemotherapy that I must apply myself.

I cannot do such a thing, no matter how stout of heart. 

The first dermatologist diagnosed sun damage that could become cancerous. The second, the dermatologist I now attend, described it as a case of both eczema and a fungus dancing around together on my lip and neither was responding to either treatment typically used.

I needed to combine treatments in titrated doses to get the thing clear. It worked, so he’s my dermatologist of choice even during this time of Covid. 

I dislike ringing his rooms though. These days, the message on his answer machine takes a good three minutes to listen through.

The usual drill: ‘If you have a fever, sore throat or any other such symptom cancel your appointment with the dermatologist and seek help from your GP. Do not come here.’

No one wants you if there’s a risk you have the virus. But if you’re virus free you’re welcome.

This accursed virus.

A friend wondered recently how much rubber we will add to landfill with all these gloves rotting in the ground, no longer simply the terrain of skin doctors and surgeons, of hairdressers and beauty therapists or people who need to protect themselves and others from whatever else might attach to their hands.

In German, the word for gloves translates into hand shoes. I enjoy the play on words. The play on ideas. The need to keep flexible at this time of inflexibility whereby every person fears every other stranger and even those we know well we must keep at arm’s length.

We can touch only through rubber gloves and even then, we must not breathe in our shared air for fear of contamination.

I watch movies from years gone by and have this urge to admonish the characters on the screen for standing too close together as if those days then are these days now.

I’ve taken to wearing gloves in winter as I grow older and feel the cold more. When the part of skin visible, the hands and face must be covered for protection from cold, let alone from viruses. At least the wool and leather gloves I wear do not leave a stink on my fingers that hangs around for hours. 

Another dermatologist I saw years ago when I was pregnant with my third child and developed a case of eczema on my hands – ‘housewife’s curse’ he called it – advised me to soak my hands daily for ten minutes in Pinetarsol. The medical smell of pine forests, alcohol and something aromatic stays with me in the same nauseous way as I felt in the early days of that pregnancy.

He also advised me to wear white cotton gloves underneath the rubber gloves for wet jobs and cotton gloves alone for when I swept floors and dusted. 

How many men get housewife’s curse from too much housework? Not many I imagine though my male hairdresser gets eczema from all the chemicals he handles. 

My poor beloved hands. Hands that have seen many surfaces, touched many textures, rough, silky, cold, or hot, burns and scalds and cuts, a life time’s collection all rolled into one set of hands with their time lines etched on the palms for any clairvoyant to read one day and catch me out for all the times I failed to wear proper gloves. 

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.