Other People’s Books, Other People’s Families

July 13, 2009 at 9:13 am (Uncategorized)

While I’ve met several fiction authors over the years, I don’t think I’d ever known one of the subjects of a non-fiction book until Darkling Deb’s sister Cecilia published Always Liza to Me, her memoir of growing up with a severely disabled sibling, the eldest in their family of six kids. You may remember we went along to the book’s launch a little while ago, and I’ve been meaning to tell you about it since I read it during the first days of convalescence after the laparoscopy, when I really wasn’t good for much else. In some ways it was less than ideal subject matter; here I am trying to get pregnant, reading the story of everything going horribly, horribly wrong. But of course, Liza’s profound mental and physical disabilities (Cecilia says Liza ‘probably’ has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome) aren’t the whole story. The family’s collective experience is also an extraordinary – though not remotely mawkish – testament to how and who we love.

Darkling Deb is the youngest in her clan, so I ripped through Cecilia’s book at such a gallop partly because I simply wanted to get to the bit about my friend. All the years before Deb’s born make for fascinating, compelling, distressing reading, and are particularly gripping for the unadorned frankness with which Cecilia writes. She so easily might have tried to soften some of the portraits, and some of the more brutal memories, but it’s one of the real strengths of the book that she resists what must, at times, have been a strong impulse. Her candour only made my reading more urgent. What was Deb’s experience like? How did she cope? How did it affect her, being the youngest, when the eldest came to stay? Did they protect her? Were they able to, being kids themselves? Of course, the answer is not really, no. Deb’s own memories (as presented by Cecilia, who does a good job of weaving together everyone’s individual point of view) of being left with an unpredictable and sometimes very violent Liza took my breath away. I just wanted to reach into the book and deliver my friend – a toddler at the time, unsupervised as the much older Liza swiped and hit and scratched – from harm. In fact, some of the scenes where Cecilia recalls other younger siblings copping it from Liza are really upsetting. At one point, Liza nearly scalps a new baby brother. That’s enough to give anyone pause, and I definitely blanched and thought to myself, “Oh my god, imagine if…”

One thing that really saddened and depressed me was the harsh impression made by their mother during these years. It’s clear – talking to Deb even before reading this book, and certainly in the book itself – that it’s their father the children adore. Meanwhile, poor Mrs. R is left alone to struggle day after grinding day with all these children (she went to the Church to ask about using birth control because of their special circumstances, and of course was denied. As appalled as I was and am by this kind of thing, disgusted, actually, without it, there might never have been our Deb, so I can’t say I’m sorry those ridiculous men said no) including one who demands more of her and more of the other children than I at least could bear. This is a woman who is judged pretty harshly by her kids, and my heart honestly breaks whenever I think of her, which has been quite often since reading Cecilia’s book. How exhausted she must have been. How hard she must have worked just to keep it all together. How thankless her life must have seemed during those long, lonely years. Whereas it’s Dad who gets the Saturday morning sleep in, and when his wife asks him at one stage to perform some small menial chore, he hurls his tea cup against the kitchen wall. I wrote to Deb about this scene of the book, saying I couldn’t believe her mum hadn’t already smashed the entire set. Somehow the father emerges from those years with the rosy, uncritical love of his children intact; not so their mother, whose best is never quite good enough.  She’s the figure who stays with me most; the stoic, dignified, private and tireless Mrs R, a woman who loved her family enough to sacrifice the image of herself as the loving one.

It makes me want to weep even now.

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Date Night

July 10, 2009 at 8:46 am (Uncategorized)

Well, I haven’t abandoned my post, I’ve just been doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is working on my manuscript. The rekeying is going well, if slowly. Put it this way: no one is hiring me as a typist anytime soon. I think it’s also slow going because I keep having to change things, and of course I’m also making decisions all the time about what to keep and what to cull. It’s turning into a very bloody sport. One good thing about the number of drafts I’ve done is how completely pragmatic I feel about slashing whole pages of text. Once they’re gone, I don’t give them a second thought. Ta ta. Nice knowing you. It is a bit cold, I grant you, but you can’t dwell on these things. It doesn’t help.

L arrived a little behind schedule this morning, but still managed to get here despite a hideous work schedule and a big PR campaign. She knocked out another 1,400 words today, so less than she’s been doing, but not bad considering this time the phone calls wouldn’t stop and couldn’t wait. I think she’s doing really well. I also received a very exciting text from Darkling C: she hammered out a draft of chapter 10 today. Brilliant! She loaded the text with all sorts of qualifiers, but I say we worry about the fine print later and just send on the dancing boys for now. God knows we’ve earned a little half-time entertainment.

Which reminds me. Date night. I have to run because I am meeting my lovely husband down at the wharf. Our budget bites the big one at the moment, so date night is going to have to be fairly creative, but even on a dime it’s still our night of the week to say, “Hello,” to each other and ignore everyone else in the world. It’s always a nice start to the weekend, and so I must away. Enjoy your own break from the madding crowd, and I’ll see you Monday.

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Excuses, Excuses…

July 9, 2009 at 1:30 am (Uncategorized)

Bad blogger, disobedient DoctorDi. No post on Monday, and no post yesterday, either. The only thing keeping me from the naughty corner is Alzheimer’s. How has it come to this?

Well, Monday I continued rekeying my manuscript. This was VR’s idea, and I immediately warmed to it: retyping the manuscript from start to finish. It’s funny what such a mundane task manages to bring into sharp relief… one of the key benefits I’ve discovered so far is its way of highlighting attribution issues. Often times it should be the main character speaking, but in past drafts I’ve attributed key comments and concepts to her love interest, which creates a kind of psychological imbalance where you think, hang on, whose story is this? Why isn’t our narrator in the driver’s seat? As I said to the Darklings the other day, it feels like that character, the illustrator, whose role grew and grew with each new draft, was actually my guide into the story, he flashed the torchlight and went on ahead into the gloom, but what that meant for a very long time was that I, as the writer, began unconsciously perceiving him as the agent of change, whereas it’s critical, it’s the whole point of the book, that that role unquestionably belongs to the narrator. It changes everything. So I was just brain fried Monday once I realised all this; the implications are huge, and by extension, so is my workload. But hey, this is the process. And it’s great having core realisations like this one, however belatedly they’ve come to me. It makes it much easier regarding each scene from a critical distance and asking, “What is happening, who is it happening to, why is it important to my heroine’s story?” The rekeying is definitely helping with that. It would not have occurred to me in a million years to do it, but it’s just one of VR’s many helpful hints that has also immediately paid dividends. You may find it doesn’t work for you, everyone’s different, but I figure it’s always worth a shot.

Yesterday I didn’t post for three reasons: I was doing more comic research, I went down to Wollongong (a.k.a. ‘the Gong’) to see Darkling C, and I met up with Llew upon my return to Sydney and we had much to discuss. So I hope you’ll forgive my terrible slackness. Darkling C was having some of those awful, soul-destroying doubts about being the best person for the job of telling her particular story (and she has a very clear, gripping story, a really top idea, so I honestly thought she’d be exempt from some of these anxieties, because her fossil has always seemed all but glass-mounted and ready for public display), so I hopped a train to the Gong, read my research text the whole way there and back (EERIE PARALLELS abound, which is great… I think…), delivered Crisis Cupcakes (store bought, I’m afraid) into C’s feverish hands, and spent the afternoon hanging out in her hood. We met C’s friend K and K’s two cutie-pie kids down by the water for a coffee, spending much of the time shooing aggressive, beady-eyed seagulls away from the kids’ bucket of hot chips, then C and I wandered north along the waterfront – a very picturesque quarter of the Gong, pelicans gliding across the water, children frolicking – to a great little cafe called Diggies. They have a lovely covered deck overlooking Main Beach, and we settled in for lunch (lamb, roast pumpkin, mint yoghurt etc. salad for C, Haloumi and lentil salad for me), a glass of wine and a catch up.

As we ate and nattered, storm clouds steadily built, darkened, and grew near. A long shadow fell over the deck. I glanced behind me and realised it was coming our way, so we hastened back to the car and got back to C’s apartment just in time. There was only one thing to do in such circumstances, and that was have another glass of wine, although I don’t usually drink in the middle of the day, and the glass at the restaurant went straight to my head. Boy. A good time to get an honest answer out of me, to say the least. Unfortunately I can’t solve C’s crisis of confidence for her. All I could do yesterday was reassure her that it is a plague that touches us all, and that if she knows she’ll never be able to walk away and let the idea rest (because some people really aren’t cut out for it, and I’m not into encouraging people to stick with something they really don’t want to do), then, well, she should just get on with it. The only way to escape a story you really feel compelled to write is to write it. Part of my dedication to the task comes down to a fervent desire to move on, and because I know I can’t abandon it, I won’t be free until it’s done. I have very little choice, in other words, but to go back into its pages and try to fix what’s wrong. Doing this is my ticket out of there, my leave pass to go and write something else. To leave my narrator and her beloved illustrator behind, and to train his recovered torch on the only way out.

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Lady Alzheimer is on the move…

July 7, 2009 at 7:25 am (Uncategorized)

Good news, everyone: Nana has scored an upgrade! How much do we love Crowley? It just keeps winning bonus points. The latest was a ‘request’ yesterday to move Nana into her own room in the dementia-specific part of the facility. You honestly think you need my permission for that?! Go right ahead! Absolutely! Kate and I are both really pleased; Nana needs to be in a dementia-specific area because she has dementia, and it’s just getting worse, so there’s a fear that she might start taking off. She hasn’t done that yet, but Kate said when she got there yesterday, Nana was packed and ready to go, handbag and Harrods bag at the ready.

“Did she think she was going somewhere?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Kate said. “But she looked ready for any contingency.”

As long as she doesn’t make a break for the doors, we’re okay. And even if she did make it outside, I doubt she’d venture very far because she has no idea where she is, whereas when she was still in Maroubra, she was emboldened by her long-standing routines, and headed out unaccompanied with increasingly alarming regularity. Lady Alzheimer was on the loose. But she hasn’t tried leaving Crowley once, and while that’s a good thing, it may change at any time, and so the move into the dementia wing is timely. The other great thing about it is that there’s only seven beds, so it’s much more homey and much less institutional. I called just now to see how moving day went, and Nana was once more fixated on the bedspread.

“I’ve got a really special bedspread,” she told me. “I am extremely pleased with my selection. It’s my latest purchase and I’m very happy with it.”

The bedspread has been provided by Crowley, of course, as were the other bedspreads that were such a hit when she first moved in, but if Nana believes she’s chosen them, one and all, so be it.

“Is it the patchwork one?”

“No.”

“The gold and cream one?”

“No,” she said. “It’s white and blue, and it’s really very nice. I’ve chosen very well.”

“You’ve always had good taste, Nana.”

“That’s true,” she said, “and did I tell you I have a very good quality bedspread?”

We didn’t get much further. I did try to gently steer her around to the fact of having her own room, but she wasn’t biting. The RN told me Nana was very anxious this morning – understandably; no one likes moving even with all their marbles intact – and although I wouldn’t describe her as agitated, she was certainly a little suspicious about her change in room status.

“So you have your own room now?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” she said. “But I’ll put up a fight to stay there.”

The good news is she won’t have to. It’s her room, she’s in it now, they’re going to hang her pictures on the wall, and we have her armchair at Kate’s ready to be delivered. Brilliant.

Last week things weren’t going quite as smoothly. My phone was at the other end of the apartment the day my sister was urgently trying to reach me. By the time I got to my phone, I think I’d missed about four calls.

“What is it? What’s happening?”

“It’s Nana,” Kate said. “Crowley called me this morning because she’s been saying she has to visit you at work on Oxford Street. She said she’s got to see you, no one else will do. She’s getting herself into quite a state. I tried talking to her, but she wasn’t interested in talking to me. She was definite. You’re the one she wants.”

I have to admit part of me swelled with a whole wild mix of emotions when Kate said that. Me? Nana wants me…? How unexpected. But also how… gratifying and validating. It seems the last seven years – when it’s just been the two of us hanging out in Sydney – have made a positive impression on her after all. I felt bad, guilty, even, for not being there, but I also felt a bit chuffed that she was calling for me and insisting no one else would do. What a turn up for the books.

“But I’ve never even worked on Oxford Street,” I told Kate.

“I didn’t think so,” she said, “but Nana’s adamant. She keeps saying she knows exactly where she has to go and she’s going.”

“Well, she’s not going to get very far. Even if she made it out onto the driveway. I mean, we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Oxford Street is a long way from Ballina.”

“I tried to tell her that,” Kate said. “I keep telling her you’re a plane ride away. But she seems to think Oxford Street is just outside. Or maybe she’s planning to charter a plane. If you hear a chopper hovering over your street, you might want to check it out. It could be Nana.”

“You know,” I said, “this is probably a real memory, and now she’s just attaching it to me because she can’t remember whose workplace it really was, and her mind is just starting to attribute stuff to you and me so that things still make sense. Granddad used to live at Taylor Square, remember. Or maybe it’s someone else’s old office. But it’s probably a real place, and a real memory, and she’s just trying to make it fit.”

“I guess,” Kate said doubtfully. “But she seemed pretty agitated about whatever it is she’s got to tell you.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll give her a call and call you right back.”

“Hello?”

“Hi Nana, it’s Diana. What’s up?”

“Well, I wanted to come and see you.”

Surprise number one: she was very clear about that – she still knew she wanted to see me earlier… that’s unusual, that level of short-term  retention.

“Oh, that’s so nice, and I wish I could see you too. But it’s a bit tricky at the moment, Nana. I’m too far away.”

“Where are you?”

“Manly.”

She laughed.

“Oh yes,” she said gaily. “Well, that is too far away.”

“A plane ride, in fact.”

“Is it?”
“I’m afraid so.”

“I didn’t think it was so far,” she said. “I just wanted to see you.”

Lump. In. My. Throat.

“Did you have something you wanted to tell me?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I don’t have any news.”

“Have you been getting into the activities?”
“Oh, there’s one here, but I’m not sure I’m interested.”

Okay. Now is as good a time as any to let you all know that ‘activities’ seems to have become a euphemism for ‘men.’

“Is that Mark?”

“Who’s Mark?”

“You told me there was someone there named Mark who was very attentive.”

“Oh yes,” she sniffed. “I suppose he is, but he’s a bit full of himself, and it’s a bit of a turn off.”

“Believes his own press, does he?”

“That’s it,” she said. “But there’s another one who’s always ready.”

(Ready for what, exactly? One hardly dares ask.)

“So you’ve got a couple on the go, Nana? Atta girl. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen.”

She giggled.

“He’s always there when we go to collect our pay. You know.”

Uh huh. Okay. Now we’re no longer talking about the here and now. So, I wonder, were we ever? Is the infamous Mark even a resident. or is he some Lothario from her working past? God only knows. But Oxford Street? Not a word. Something she had to tell me and me alone? Gone. Except that she wanted to see me. She didn’t forget that, and neither will I.

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Someone Ought to Write That Down

July 3, 2009 at 9:03 am (Uncategorized)

It’s late for me to be posting on a Friday night, after six here on a chilly Man Town evening. I went for a walk at sunset – my first proper walk since last Wednesday’s procedure – and kept my eyes peeled, but the breaching whales Llew saw on the ferry going into work this morning were long gone (more on that story here. And they call this public transport?! Are you kidding me?!). As you can imagine, given I usually run several times a week, I’m starting to go barking mad for the lack of exercise. I feel a lot better just for the fresh air – and it is fresh. L, my Man Town-based writer friend, has completed her second consecutive Friday Writing Day at Chez J. She just wasn’t able to start working seriously on her novel at her own desk at home. It’s too closely associated with her day job, and she was finding herself constantly interrupted. “Well,” I said to her over coffee a couple of months ago, “you’re welcome to try working at my place.”

Friday is L’s designated writing day, and we’re finally doing it. I work in my office, and L has the lounge/dining room to herself. It’s a nice room, actually, and she’s very happy there so far. Having her here is fantastic for me, too. Just as I work like a loaded gun when I’m with the Darklings (we all beaver away like mad, it’s quite interesting how motivating it is imagining that everyone else is writing up a storm), so too have I found the last two Fridays a real boon. Well. I was working on MS #2 really well last week until lunch, and then I got VR’s manuscript assessment, and that kind of finished me off for the rest of the day, week, month of June. But today was great! And L is making superb progress too. She set herself a minimum word count of 2,000 every Friday, and she’s on track, Which is 4,000 words she didn’t have 8 days ago. It’s really exciting. And she brings baked goods.

We break and have a coffee or tea and a great breakneck chat about what we’re each doing, and then we go back to work. It’s basically identical to the individual work set-up at Varuna, and to the Virtual Varuna the other Darklings and I managed to create down at Aireys Inlet. It’s brilliant knowing there’s another writer in the house. It even feels nice. I don’t know why. It just does. I love it, and I am so happy L is finally coming and finally writing her book. At my house, no less! Oh, I would love to have a big rambling terrace at my disposal to turn into a permanent creative hothouse, preferably down in The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, a writers’ studio with a room of one’s own for you and you and you and you. I fantasise about this place a lot. I can imagine it so clearly. But since I don’t have the means to open a Sydney Writers’ House, I’ll settle for opening my home to L so that she can do what needs to be done. It’s a good start.

Anyway, I got the nastiest shock yesterday when Darkling C noted in an email that my most recent draft (which I think was my seventh, but who’s counting?) was really only a first draft if you consider that I’ve only just found The Story. Yes, it’s true. It was only in writing the last draft that any sort of proper story started taking shape. I shuddered reading those words, though. My first draft? Oh please god no. Really? Say it isn’t so. But of course she’s right, and I’ll tell you something else. In Stephen King’s book On Writing, there’s this chapter on story where he likens it to a pre-existing fossil it’s up the author to excavate. I read and reread this passage umpteen times, because I just didn’t know what the fucking hell he was talking about. There’s no fossil, I huffed. Fossil? What’s he talking about ‘fossil’? I got nuttin’, Stevie, nuttin’! And then yesterday I realised that’s what that last draft was about. My fossil.

But now that I know I’ve glimpsed my fossil, I also know I haven’t even really begun my excavation. What happened last draft is that I identified the site. I cordoned it off with tape. That’s pretty much it. This is where my fossil lies. And I think he’s right when he says it was always there. I’ve just tilled a shitload of soil trying to ascertain if I was remotely in the right place to start digging, but at least now I know – and I know – I am. I have to let go of this extended metaphor now, it’s killing me. The main point is that now I have to bring the thing out, out into the light.

I was discussing all this with Llew last night, and about how that draft one idea was like a punch in the guts at first, and wondering aloud if I would be able to ‘excavate my fossil’ without destroying it and the surrounding countryside, and he shook his head, raised his glass and said, “Welcome to your mid-write crisis.”

Naturally I burst out laughing. A mid-write crisis. Perfect. I just had to share that with you. I love it. And him.

The good news is that I think I had a structural, thematic breakthrough today. It’s too early to tell, but it feels like I know something now I didn’t know before: the outline, the shape, the core dimensions of my fossil. Do I have the right equipment? Am I even the right person for the job? I honestly don’t know, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Gulp. Here goes…. Oh, and another crisis was averted today: I am definitely not off my coffee. I made my own this time, and had two. Back in business.

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When Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard is Bare…

July 2, 2009 at 2:59 am (Uncategorized)

It really is nice weather we’re having, by the way. Another perfect and surprisingly warm day here in Man Town and I am feeling fine. I still haven’t had that coffee… I’m wondering if I should try and kick the habit since I’ve gone these last days without it and lived, though barely, to tell the tale. Maybe it should become an occasional treat instead of a daily fix… I mean, ritual. I could not tell you the last time I went five days without a cup of coffee or two. Or three. No, three was increasingly rare. Two pretty standard. But now I’m wondering if I should see what happens. And things are indeed starting to happen. A carton of milk has gone off, for starters. I normally barrel through 2 L every few days because I drink white coffee, so this is unheard of in the House of J. But I caught a whiff this morning as I splashed a drop into my tea that made me have to check the use-by date for the first time in I don’t even know how long. Ew. I kind of want a coffee, and I kind of want to deprive myself of it. I’m not sure which is the real sickness.

Anyway, I’m going to tell you about my pot luck risotto, because it really happened out of sheer desperation. It was Monday, and I was in no mood for a trip to the supermarket or Harris Farm Market to buy supplies. Truth be told, I didn’t even feel like cooking, but I knew Llew would be home late because it was end-of-financial-year madness at the office. If I wanted dinner, I’d have to make it myself. So it was really a matter of making do with what I had in the fridge. Sometimes this is a real test of my will to survive. Monday was a good example, because I was approaching the end of the fortnightly grocery cycle. I’m due to stock up today. So I hung my head in the fridge for a while and did a quick recon. Then I checked the pantry. I had half a bag of arborio rice left which said EAT ME before that pathetic brown pasta Llew made me buy and which I have no intention of ever eating could even get a word in. Risotto, I thought, here we come!

From the fridge came a random array of foodstuffs, and I’m just going to take you through what I did with it.

I chopped a good sized brown onion.

I removed the roast garlic cloves from the bulb that was leftover from a roast dinner.

I chopped up some bacon rashers.

I finely sliced a bag of button mushrooms.

I put a mix of olive oil and butter in the pan, and sauteed the onion, then added the bacon, then added the mushrooms. Then I poured in the rice and coated it thoroughly.

I added some chicken stock. This was not homemade. Some of the supermarket ones are pretty good these days, and I always have some handy. Stirring, stirring all the while.

I threw in the remnants of a bottle of white wine. Not much, just whatever was there.

Then I chopped up a small block of feta and threw that in too.

I had some thyme and rosemary, so they became the herbs du jour, no questions asked, and I was confident they both went well with feta, bacon, and mushrooms. I put in my roast garlic cloves and added some more stock.

It was coming along really well at this point, it smelled divine, I was already pretty sure I was onto a winner, so I just lightly sprinkled in some chilli flakes, and then finely chopped the half a red capsicum/pepper I had leftover from a salad. I wanted it to be the last in so it would retain just a little crunch.

It was still cooking on a low heat at this stage, and the rice was still absorbing liquid, so I added some water from the kettle. It wasn’t boiled. It was just right next to me. A decent splash.

I seasoned it liberally with pepper. No salt; the feta and stock were already doing that job nicely.

Then I removed it from the heat and let it sit there, the rice cooking through from residual heat. Llew confirmed he wouldn’t be home until about 11 pm, so I served myself dinner, gave it a little jazz in the microwave, and while that was happening grated some parmesan to sprinkle on top. And as much as I hate eating alone, I am pleased to say I had myself a mighty fine meal. Better, Llewie got a home-cooked meal when he finally staggered in the door, and there were leftovers (which did not last long).

It often looks like there’s nothing in the fridge, but really, that’s rarely true. There’s usually the makings of a really simple, delicious meal just waiting to be brought to life. And there’s something incredibly satisfying about winging it so completely and coming up trumps. It made me feel better, like anything was possible in other parts of my life too.

POSTSCRIPT: Okay, I had a coffee after lunch, but two strange, unprecedented things occurred. I didn’t finish it, and I didn’t enjoy it. Oh my god, what’s happening to me??

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That’s Not Swine Flu, That’s… Um… Hey, Nice Weather We’re Having!

July 1, 2009 at 8:05 am (Uncategorized)

I had my stitches out today. It was my first time. As the doctor (more on that in a minute) said, I was a stitch virgin. I’ve never had stitches in my whole life, not for anything. This is amazing to me because I am a real butter-fingered, Lucille Ball-style, slapstick klutz. I routinely fall over. I constantly crack my skull against anything I can find to charge into headfirst. Actually, I backed into the car just this past Saturday and whacked the back of my head so hard against the door frame that I got a severe frontal lobe headache. But no stitches. Llew was amazed. This unblemished scar-free tissue of mine mostly reveals my scaredy-cat tendencies, I think. I’ve never and will never pack a scrum, unlike my husband. I’m not so big on the contact sports. And I don’t like violence or, come to think of it, danger. I’d go so far as to say I’m extremely injury avoidant, despite the constant wipeouts and near concussions. So the stitches and the knowledge of potential scarring… that was all very much new territory for me. I somehow hadn’t figured on actual scars.

Anyway, I called my regular doctor, Dr J, to make the appointment to get the stitches out. You know Dr J – I like her a lot. But Dr J is away for the month. Crisis. I’ve lost my stitch virginity, and she’s not even going to be there for me to help me with my post-stitch remorse! I was so bummed. This also created a new problem: who would be taking these things out? Dr F, who put them in, is also away. And since he’s a specialist, it gets expensive going to see him when any GP would do. I had to suck it up, but not too much because otherwise it hurts.

Yesterday I went into one surgery and explained the situation. I was looking to make an appointment for today as per my post-op instructions.

“Our doctors are away too,” the receptionist said.

“What’s going on? Are they all away together? Is this some kind of doctor/patient hide and seek?”

“We only have one locum,” she said. “So… nope, we can’t help you either. Try up the road.”

I walked up the road. There was another surgery. When I went up to the desk the receptionist scowled at me.

“Hello,” I said, and yes I did give her a big Please Like Me and Be Nice to Me smile, to zero effect. “My regular doctor is away, Dr J, and I need some stitches taken out.”

Her frown deepened.

“Who put the stitches in?” she demanded.

“Dr F,” I gestured vaguely. “Around the corner. Beach Babies.”

(I’m not even making that up. That’s honestly what it’s called.)

“Then he should be the one removing them.”

“Oh,” I said hurriedly, “but, um, it says to go to a regular doctor. Maybe because he’s a specialist. And, um, he’s gone away now.”

Her whole face shrivelled up into a mask of tight fury. I slowly took one step back from the desk. But I needn’t have worried. She pulled her chair in and started thumping at keys on the keyboard in front of her, glaring at the screen.

“I was just wanting to make an appointment for tomorrow,” I said apologetically. “That’ll be seven days.”

She narrowed her eyes at the screen.

“Then just come back tomorrow.”

“Don’t I need to make an appoint–”

“Just come back tomorrow.”

Meanie!! What a meanie!! So I skulked out of there and went straight to the patisserie. I felt better after a warm almond croissant, but I was still terrified of returning today. I was nearly trembling when I approached the desk, but to my vast surprise, when I went through the whole thing again and then said, “I came in yesterday,” she smiled at me.

There, now. Was that so hard?

“Yes,” she said. “What was your name? Address? Date of birth?”

In the end I got in there to see Dr L without an appointment way, way faster than I’ve ever been able to see Dr J with one. Dr J’s waiting room is like a wormhole. Things happen in there with time and space that just cannot be explained. But this whole no appointment approach at Dr L’s, well, we were just zipping along. Speaking of zips, he removed the smiley face stitches while making hilarious jokes about my age and a loud ticking clock.

“Yeah,” I said. “Ha ha. Ho ho.”

No, really. That’s a good ‘un, doc.

But then he did tell me something pretty crazy. Apparently the NSW Health Dept. had just been on the phone telling him to stop diagnosing swine flu and to stop giving swine flu vaccinations.

“Why would they do that? That sounds… um, pretty reprehensible.”

“It’s so they can say numbers of diagnoses are down. No problem here!”

“Really? That’s extraordinary.”

“It is extraordinary,” Dr L agreed, merrily snipping away. “I just can’t understand it. But they were my instructions.”

“From the government? The Health Department? This is seriously what they told you?”

“The NSW Department of Health, yes. On the phone. Just now.”

Great. So, let me get this straight. The state government can’t meet the demand for the swine flu vaccine, so they’re now trying to diddle the numbers so it looks like demand can be revised down? WOW. Does that not strike you as totally ethically bankrupt? I’m just amazed that this is apparently current policy, and that they’re calling doctors and telling them this. I mean, I think our current state government is the most inept pack of halfwits the world has ever seen, with the possible exception of the Bush federal administration in the US – I don’t know, it’s too close to call, they’re going to be neck ‘n’ neck in the history books – but even I’m surprised by this new low. No, no, you don’t need the swine flu vaccine, dear old Mrs Peabody. You just need… um, let’s see, what have we got here… how about some laughing gas? Care for a lozenge? Maybe a Mickey Mouse bandaid on that widdle boo boo? Incredible!

Here it is already another 1,000 words in and I’ve not even told you about finishing The Selected Works of T.S Spivet and Always Liza to Me. And I still haven’t told you my pot luck risotto recipe from Monday night, which I think you’ll enjoy and feel emboldened by (unexpected successes are so freeing in the kitchen, I think). And I haven’t told you about the latest Lady Alzheimer chat. So there’s much to discuss, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

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