What’s going on?

My husband has a slight tremor in his hands. The first time I noticed it over ten years ago he was at the airport handing over his passport for inspection before boarding a plane for Berlin where he planned to meet our daughter and her partner for a four week holiday. At the time I put it down to anxiety and it surprised me.

Like my daughters I’ve tended to put my husband on a pedestal, one inspired by his intellect and extraordinary ability to tackle so many different things. I’ve listed these before.

My husband turns wood, he bakes bread, makes Kimchi, smokes bacon and salami, preserves olives, he makes sauces and relishes, he silversmiths, blows glass, is a photography buff, a gardener, an inspired cook who prefers to experiment with foods from yesteryear such as tripe, all things offal, mixed grains, duck and goose fat. My husband experiments in paper making and bookbinding.

As a source of relaxation, my husband sharpens knives for friends and family on a revolving stone in his workshop.  He makes jewellery, knife and chisel handles, spoons and designs solutions to the problems of broken doors, window sashes and all manner of handy man stuff throughout the house.

By day he works as a lawyer. All these other activities happen on weekends and holidays and in his spare time. Perhaps this accounts for the anxiety.


A necklace carved out of silver as an example of his artistry.

My husband goes through phases. At the moment he’s back into making Kimchi, which he eats with every meal. He read somewhere it’s good for your gut. He plans to tackle sauerkraut next, which he imagines will please me given my Dutch origins.

Not that the Dutch invented sauerkraut. I think it belongs to the Germans and Eastern Europeans, but my parents ate it from time to time with rookwurst and tongue.

I’m not so keen on Kimchi myself, nor sauerkraut despite their health giving properties. I prefer to have Tarama with my meals, the salty rather than the sour.

My husband moves from one activity to the next and it troubles me because with each passing experience he begins to look out for a new one, and his skills pile up too fast. He complains because they do not develop beyond that first flush of fun.

It must be hard to be a man of many talents, always looking to settle on something specific, something that might engage him in an ongoing way so that he will persevere beyond the first successful batches into the unsuccessful ones and from then on to even better ones.

Creativity involves the making of a mess.

One of my brothers who had begun what I thought of as a promising career in writing, along side his day job in computers – he had two or three short stories published in literary magazines – told me that he had given up when it became clear it was hard to get published, too hard for him it seemed. He could not stand the disappointment.

When we were children, this brother was the family genius, another man who seemed able to tackle anything, anything intellectual that is. I’m not sure about what he could do with his hands, apart from win at Chess. Unlike my husband, who is both intellectually able, an avid reader of history and all things political, as well as someone who enjoys thrillers, and is also at home in those physical pursuits I listed earlier. My brother, on the other hand, at least when we were young when he was dux of St Patricks College in East Melbourne, was brilliant at Physics, Chemistry and Maths, at languages, French and Latin, at English and virtually any other subject the school offered.

I admired such capacities.

To me skills as these are far more appealing than athletic abilities or looks, not that looks are a skill, though maintaining them might be. Not for me the glamorous people, the ones who look as though they might live forever with the aid of Botox and the like, nor the footballers, cricketers or swimmers. I get very little pleasure out of spending hours watching Olympians strut their stuff, not that I can’t acknowledge the fortitude and perseverance that go into these activities.

My husband hurt his back last week. He felt like a ‘crock’, to use his words as he hobbled outside to the tram stop to get to work. He visited a physiotherapist who used her elbows to dig into painful places and begin to set things right. She was concerned though at his tremble.

Could there be something else going on? He thought not, though behind the scenes he was worried, he told me.

But my husband is a frequent visitor to doctors over the years and not one of them, as far as I know, has remarked upon this tremor. Though doctors often seem to deal with different bits and pieces of his body. The one attends his heart, which seems to be in fine shape following a heart attack over ten years ago. Another attends to his ‘plumbing’.

When he was a small boy my husband had an accident of which he has no recall where he must have smashed his penis against the bar in the middle of his bike. It was only a slight injury but it caused scarring and nearly twenty years ago he observed that he was not peeing well, and that he was prone to urinary tract infections.

An observant urologist detected the scarring problem and once a year my husband visits him for a ‘re-bore’, whereby the doctor shoves a metal probe into my husband’s urethra – I can see you all squeeze your legs together – and this helps tidy up the pathway so that he can pee freely.

And then there’s my husband’s back, which break down periodically. In fact, if I think of it, his ailments match his skills. Not one for one. He has many more skills than he has ailments.

My husband’s tremor settles when he is not anxious or stressed, and when he is not concentrating on a task involving fine motor skills. It settles as he sleeps and reads and relaxes.

Why has it taken so long for him to tell me about this tremor and why has it taken me so long to acknowledge something I first noticed over ten years ago?

Wilful blindness, denial, a fear of persecuting him or a fear of worse things to cone.

And then of course there’s my own heart which races from time to time in a flutter that feels adrenalin fuelled as if I have out of nowhere had a great shock at times when there is nothing shocking around, other than the general stress of life.

It was worse before Christmas and has settled down of late.

These bodily ailments we choose to ignore, perhaps as signs of things to come, our inevitable mortality, our slide towards ill health, old age and death.

A grim thought, and one we might prefer to ignore, and focus instead on the creation of something new.

10 thoughts on “What’s going on?”

  1. I’m not good with my hands. I can change a fuse and a tyre but my skill set does not extend much further. I’m not, for example, a DIY enthusiast and most certainly not a gardener. I can feed myself but I’m not an adventurous cook by any manner or means. I don’t get any real pleasure from any of these activities; they’re chores. My wife, on the other hand, can put her hand to most things although the older she gets the less inclined she seems and even buys more readymade food than she once did which suits me just fine; I do not have a refined or especially fussy palate. I eat to live and in that respect the future has proved a significant disappointment; we should be living off pills by now according to The Jetsons. Carrie loves tools. She came back from the States this time with a set of attachments for her Dremel and very pretty they were in their box. I had no idea what a Dremel was when she bought it and, to be honest, I’ve forgotten. Some sort of drill I suppose. When we first got married I think I owned a hammer, two screwdrivers and a pair of pliers and in all the years we’ve been married I don’t think I’ve found a pressing need for anything else except an electric drill which we now have although I’ve no idea where exactly. I appreciate tools for their aesthetic qualities. Like a gun or a motorbike they can appeal to the eye but that’s about it.

    I don’t suffer from tremors but I am annoyed constantly by myoclonus. It started off with stomach spasms but now I get leg jerks and the occasional flailing arm. All when I’m trying to sleep. The most annoying is the shoulder “nudge”. Imagine you’ve dozed off on public transport and some kindly fellow traveller shakes you by the shoulder to let you know it’s your stop. It’s like that. Not especially irksome except when it keeps on trying to wake you. That can be waring. I won’t bore you with a list of my many other minor aches and pains. It’s a depressingly long one and mostly consists of things the doctors can do little about other than prescribing drugs with side effects worse than the symptoms they’re trying to alleviate. I’m sure when you add all of them up you could get a nice syndrome out of it but to what end?

    I do get the whole “first flush of fun” mindset. Puzzles the hell out me that writing’s never ceased to be fun for me. “Fun” is not the world I’d use—“fun” feels too trivial a word—but I get more satisfaction from writing than I do from anything else. Even little comments like this. There is real pleasure to be gained from watching my fingers clatter over the keyboard and see words form on the screen in front of me. And they’re so neat and tidy! I abandoned pen and paper as soon as I could and only use it as a stopgap these days. Frankly it’s as easy to type a note on my tablet and more legible. My main problem these days is developing new skills. I have, for example, a Sony DSLR camera which I’ve virtually never used. I just can’t get my head round it. I do remember my first camera. It was a Fed, a rangefinder, but I quickly moved onto a Zorki and then a Praktica. It was great fun getting to grips with new skills but the cost was prohibitive which is why I didn’t do more. Now there’s no cost—everything’s digital—but the fun’s gone. I think if I gave up all this Internet malarkey and devoted a year to learning the camera it might stick because I don’t have time for it all and as soon as I commit to editing the next book—for some reason I’m dragging my feet—that’ll be it. And Christ knows what I’ll do if I get an idea for another novel that doesn’t die a death after a few thousand words.

    1. I get satisfaction out of writing, too, Jim. That’s part of my point here. Too many talents don’t get enough practice time. It seems to me, writing is my basic talent and although there are other things I could have developed once upon a time, like singing and acting, I never pursued them after I left school and so they’ve atrophied. I’m not unhappy about this for me, though i can see my husband’s frustrations – too many ideas of what next and no time or energy to get there. I’ve sometimes wished I had time for more than one life. If there were more time, I might have tried other things as well, and my husband might have found time to hone one or other of his skills. But that’s not to be. Thanks, Jim

  2. And it may well come to the point where he can’t pour a cup of tea without slopping it over the saucer. No big deal. You live with tremors and manage them. The same for a racing heart. It perhaps does that for no reason and nothing life threatening. Whether my writing is good or not is for others to judge, but I do really enjoy writing, especially pulling apart sentences to improve them, which I probably should do here and now, but I also like spontaneous writing.

    1. A grim thought, Andrew – no longer able to pour a cup of tea without slopping it – but life surges on relentlessly and with it life’s maladies multiply. Good to hear from you again. Thanks.

  3. Your husband is so multi-talented it almost exhausted me just to read about it. I’m hoping you stay on top of his ailments. I think sometimes the body keeps a sense memory of reactions to stress. Hopefully his tremor is not a neural reaction to a serious condition.

    1. I enjoyed writing this list of my husband’s skill’s Kass. I enjoy writing lists generally. There’s something satisfying in the compilation of images. But I had to restrict them, others you’d have been even more exhausted. Thanks, Kass.

  4. Your husband sounds remarkable, and I love the matter of fact way you’ve written about him here today. I was talking to my father this morning, and he was regaling me with my mother’s various ailments. He was saying that at their age, there comes a point when you have to acknowledge that the ailments are part of age, that you don’t necessarily have to look for a cure. He’s eighty, and when he talks like that I am reminded as if I’ve been knocked over the head with a sledgehammer that he is old, that he will probably die before me.

    1. It’s easy to forget the business of ageing, Elizabeth, that of our parents and of ourselves. And then one day it hits. But as they say, you’re lucky if you get to grow old. Not everyone makes it, though of course quality of life matters here, too. Thanks.

  5. Before I write anything else, let me say that your husband is a talented man—wonderfully creative!
    Ageing frightens me, too. I recently wrote on another friend’s blog that I rarely look closely at myself in the mirror anymore, but when I do, I’m surprised by what I find: wrinkles and hollows and sunspots. I can’t pluck my eyebrows without a magnifying mirror, and I have to ask the kids to read labels if I’m not wearing my glasses. I stiffen if I sit in the same position for too long. I no longer dismiss my aches and pains and minor illnesses, because I worry they’re a sign of something more sinister, like cancer.
    Most of all, I worry when I forget things, which I do increasingly. I worry I’m losing my brain, like my father did, and like his mother before him. I have a 50:50 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, and I feel a pressing need to make the most of my brain while I still have it.
    It’s hard being confronted with our mortality.

    1. It’s such an odd process, this business of ageing, Louise. I too fear that the things that happened to my mother will happen to me, almost identically, which is of course a ridiculous fear. My mother had her first hip replacement on the cusp of sixty and one every decade thereafter. So far my hips are fine, as are those of all my sisters so maybe we had better diets, or something else. Certainly we all had fewer children. It’s easy to imagine that the lot of our parents will be ours, too. The fact is we deviate from the moment we’re born. Thank goodness. So hopefully you won’t go down the Alzheimers path, despite you forebears. Thanks, Louise.

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