Tag Archives: Writing

Surgery, Trakkies and Champagne

The registrar asked if I had seen my x-rays, and I shook my head in the negative. Her face dropped and she said, “Ooooh!” rather ominously, then asked us to follow her into a consulting room. I looked at my sister with wide eyes, and whispered to her, “That’s not good. Not good.”

The next ten minutes were a blur of medical terms, hastily hatched questions, repeated answers and confusion. The registrar was of average height with short brown hair and had the air of a woman permanently tired. Her accent I guessed originated somewhere in the Russian world, and made my multiple breaks sound slightly more exotic. After a short wait, the kindly nurse (who was the doppelgänger of my friend Philippa in California) took me to spend what was left of the night in their waiting ward. It was just after 2am. I was given a shot of morphine in the belly, farewelled my sister and attempted to sleep with the bulky half-cast weighing down my arm.

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A few hours later, I was transferred up to the Day Surgery ward where I spent the next two days observing all the comings and goings. Hospitals can be fascinating places, the site of some of the most painful and joyous occasions in life. And I saw this pain/joy dichotomy in the woman who occupied in the bed beside me for a couple of hours. Her sister and husband-in-law had driven her down to Sydney from the western districts of NSW and were waiting with her. Judging by the Professor and his gaggle of med students following him around like little ducklings, her surgery was a big deal.

She had an aggressive form of bowel cancer and the Professor was about to perform an incredibly complex surgery that was due to last ten hours. The ice-blue curtain was drawn all morning, but I could still hear her clear-headed questions, her voice unwavering. She was due to spend at least a week following the operation in intensive care, and her sister was instructed only to bring her children to visit if she didn’t have too many tubes and scary-looking machines. It was hoped that the marathon surgery would rid her of cancer and reconstruct her internal organs, hopefully providing her with a better quality of life than she had previously. And although I waited for my surgery with good humour and a patience unknown in my regular life (patience is not a virtue I possess!), it was still a stark reminder that I only had a broken wrist. It was small fry, comparatively, and I was grateful.

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A few hours later, Mum brought a few creature comforts from home that made my day: the black-out sleeping eye mask enabled me to snooze at any time of the day or night, a scarf for warmth and a book to read. I was still in my basketball gear from the night before, so sliding out of the lycra and into trakkies was heavenly! My favourite sports bra was the only casualty. There was no way I could wriggle out of it, so I thanked it for its service, and was promptly cut out of it. Such is life.

It was after 6pm when the surgeon came to see me. Some of the other procedures had run long, so I had to wait another day. It really didn’t faze me — I was well looked after and tomorrow was only a few hours away. I was scheduled to be first into theatre tomorrow, but I was a little upset because it meant I would be unable to make it to the footy game that night. “Oh, you’re a fellow Roosters fan!” he exclaimed.
“Um, I meant the Swans, actually,” I said. Different football code.
“Oh,” he replied. “In that case, there’s an opening for surgery late next week…” he joked.

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Overnight, the woman two beds over had severe sleep apnoea, and the young guy in the bed behind me tried to harm himself and was moved to a different part of the makeshift ward. Things escalated with him in the morning, and also with a middle-aged Chinese woman who reacted badly to the medication they gave her and went off the deep end, screaming in Mandarin and throwing things at the staff. When you’re in hospital for an extended period of time, you come to appreciated just how hard the nursing staff work and how tough the conditions can be.

Morning arrived. I spoke to the surgeon and his junior sidekick about the plan for surgery, then the anaesthetist (who just happened to be a dead ringer of my friend Ishara in SF). Sometime after 8am, she rolled me out of Day Surgery and down along the corridors, past all the flourescent lights all lined up in perfect rows. When you’re under the influence of morphine, time seems to lack the usual indicators. I chatted to the staff whilst we all waited in the antebellum for theatre, but it could have been a minute or half an hour.

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Eventually, we rolled in to the crisp white suite, the space age lights hanging from the ceiling. It was as I pictured it: stark, clinical, but also a little newer than expected. Only the surgeon’s eyes were on display, but he was too far away for me to recognise him minus my glasses. I could only go by his voice. We agreed on what procedure I was having, and I felt comfortable that I would not be having my tonsils removed or my leg amputated in error. But there was no instruction to “count backwards from 100″, just the anaesthetist’s guide that I’d be experience a cold feeling, followed by a sensation of having consumed a few champagnes. From the cannula in my left hand I felt the liquid enter my blood stream and sprint up my left arm as I started to feel drunk, and then…

I awoke in the same bed back in the Day Surgery ward, more than a little groggy from the ‘champagne’. For the second afternoon in a row, my sister came to sit with me. She worked remotely on her laptop whilst I chilled in the bed and napped and recovered. We may not have done a whole lot of talking, and certainly not about anything of consequence, but I really appreciated the company. I know she’s got my back.

The surgery to insert the titanium plate and eight screws had gone well, as did the removal of the extra bone fragments that would have caused me grief. My right wrist felt a million times better than it had only a few hours previously, no longer like it was tied in a knot. Such a relief! I was to keep the half-cast dry and to see the specialist in two weeks to remove the stitches.

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At the end of the day, I was finally discharged. Although I had to give away my ticket to the Swans Preliminary Final, my sister and I still made it back home with just over and hour to spare before the game started. I can barely remember it — and I think we each were only able to manage one slice of pizza each — but the Swans beat North Melbourne by 71 points. I’d like to think that I took one for the team by breaking my wrist, but then in the Grand Final a week later the Swans were humiliated by almost the same margin. So it was all a little hollow. But I still had perspective: my wrist had been repaired by the skillful surgeons at St George Hospital and was on the mend, so losing a Grand Final (especially in my morphine haze)  was small fry.

Life’s good.

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The Preliminary Final

Sometimes life bites you in the arse. Hard.

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I took a tumble at basketball on Wednesday night and have spent the last 44 hours in hospital. I had surgery this morning to have a plate inserted in my wrist. But I cried when it was apparent I wouldn’t make it to see the Swans in the Preliminary Final tonight.

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So I have made it home with 90 minutes to spare. My lovely sister is cooking fancy pizza, I’m freshly bathed and morphined up. And we’re going to Cheer Cheer the red and the white from the comfort of the couch.

The Creative Catalyst

I’m not someone who has a lot of faith, but the little faith I do have, I put into searching for moments. And occasionally the moments that I seek, and that I desire, arrive.

Since returning home to Australia, my creativity has flatlined. Life has taken up the space where creativity grows, numerous half-finished projects before me with little insight into how they will be finished. Images of never achieving that to which I aspire gain greater clarity with each passing day. It’s as though I feel the gravitational spin of the earth more acutely and have a greater awareness that time is running out. But the act of writing something, anything, lately has brought me pain and I’ve wanted to avoid it. So, for the most part, I have.

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The catalyst

The last week, I watched a short film. But it was not the subject matter that inspired me, but the experience. It stirred something in me. Like an old car – coughing, spluttering – my creative soul awoke. After hunting around for it, finding something that truly inspires me gives me such a thrill! Great ideas were released, unleashed, and my hand struggled to keep up the pace as they poured forth.

Inspiration = elation, energy, excitement

This new inspiration has produced great feelings of elation, energy and excitement. By opening myself up to new experiences, it proved a catalyst for unlocking the next layer, one that I had been labouring in vain to unlock for myself.

For me, creativity doesn’t work like that — something you can flip on with a switch. My creativity needs external input and action and laughter and sadness and elation and moments of brevity. Maybe that’s what it is I seek when I travel: Moments of magic, moments like this.

And so I dance: a choreographed movement of starting and stopping, of being inspired and searching for the inspiration, of squandering time and trying to improve my inner discipline. I’ve not known anything different. Only with each sequence comes greater urgency, greater force.

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A new period of creativity

But right now, I am in tune with my own ability to create and I am celebrating being back in this space and being inspired. But this is not the easy part. Actually harnessing the energy to sit down and write is tough. It requires moments of reflection, development, problem solving, projection, discussion, revision. But it’s what I love to do. It’s what drives me. And I know I’m not alone in finding the whole process challenging.

I opened my ideas book to see I’ve already had at least ten other ideas of varying degrees of awesomeness, and they’re all worth pursuing in some fashion. So now, I’m switching off, plugging in to the world of my characters and trying to see where they will take me.

Signal by Coffee Cup

I think there might be spies in my building.
Spies who communicate with other spies through the placement of coffee cups left on security checkpoints.

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And what makes this really odd is that there’s no McDonald’s even close to my work.

Bouncing Back

One minute, you’re walking along making to do lists in your head and planing out the rest of your day, then suddenly you’re falling down a drain and sprawling forward, unable to even get your hands up in time before your head kisses the concrete. That was my Friday.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting multiple doctors to assess the extent of my injuries and following up with the HR department of the company who owns the car park. Instead of tofu tacos and drinks with friends last night, I was wrapped up in my PJs on the couch icing my knee and bathing my grazes. It was where I needed to be.

But even in the middle of the maelstrom, I was thankful. I was counting my lucky stars that I didn’t break any bones or suffer any greater injuries, like tearing my ACL or getting a head injury. I was thankful for the kindness of strangers like the two nurses who helped me and I remembered to thank them in the moment. And in a strange way, I am thankful that it happened to me and not people who would have been less able to weather such an experience. Under strain, I was able to practice all the things I’ve been working on: clarity, breathing, gratitude and mindfulness.

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And today, I am feeling better. Still sore and suffering from lack of sleep (from my left side being too tender to sleep on), but okay. I have been plodding along not expecting something unexpected such as this to happen to me. It’s a good reminder for all of us to expect the unexpected. 

So now, I am sitting outside on the deck, a cuppa in one hand and the sun warming my face. I am thankful that I am okay in the grand scheme of things and that I can get on with life and know I am heading in the right direction.

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Climbing Pigeon House Mountain, NSW

IMG_4931aWhen I was studying a few months ago, I taped a list of things I wanted to post-uni to my wardrobe door. I added to it when inspiration struck and it gave me an extra push, knowing that I could achieve all of those marvellous things once I was finished. And one of these grand plans was hiking Pigeon Mountain on the south coast of New South Wales, three hours from Sydney. My sister and I hatched a plan for Easter and cleared our schedules. Now the time had come to finally tick it off my list.

We were up at dawn, the earliest I’d seen of the AM hours in a while. My sister – a morning person – drove. The first half of the journey was filled with sleepy-headed silence and nostalgia of all the trips that had come before it. The field beside the highway where giant sunflowers used to bloom now lays sadly idle.

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We passed through a town that gave way into small rural allotments, then small farms. We saw cows crossing, lawns of lavender and the beehives that produce the Pigeon Mountain honey I love. The wide open paddocks were the shades of vibrant greens after the previous month’s record-breaking rains – a rare sight in a drought-prone nation. The sealed road gave way to a wide dirt surrounded by protected bushland. This marked the start of our off-roading journey.

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“The first part is hardest. So we’ll power through and then take a rest when we get to next section of the hike,” she said as we pulled into the car park. We were in the southern section of the Morton National Park, 27km down a dirt road, and miles from civilisation. We were effectively in the middle of nowhere and it felt like it.

The rating on the trek from the National Park and Wildlife Service (NPWS) was ‘hard’ and suggested four hours each way for the journey of 5km.  There were to be no sherpas on this expedition so I was conscious of not overpacking. I settled for some food, four litres of water, a first aid kit, a camera and a light jumper.

It was a chilly 12 degrees Celsius (53F) and the sun had not yet reached us on the south-western face of the mountain. We each put in our ear buds, and set off with little ceremony or fanfare.

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The first section of the trail was steep, the track was wide. The NPWS had formed uneven steps into the terrain to assist hikers and help prevent erosion. Trees stood at arms length from each other as though they were fearful of contact. But this soon changed as we climbed higher, giving way to more dense eucalypt and ash forest and small grey boulders to scramble around.

We climbed in silence, each listening to the music that motivated us. I listened to a mix I’d made to run along the Lakeshore Trail in Chicago, so I spent the first part of the climb reliving recent memories and trying to recall the sights and sounds of my regular run. The volume on my iPod was turned way down so I could (potentially) hear the slithering of snakes on the path and the clomp of oncoming groups. Being that I was in two places at once, this section passed pretty quickly.

We emerged at a slight clearing and stopped for some water. Just off the main track was a large boulder, and so we ventured out on to it to soak in the view. We caught sight of our destination – Pigeon House Mountain – rising up before us, but it looked so far away.

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We resumed our steady pace and in a few minutes came into what was definitively the second stage of the trail. It was mostly flat, scrubby bushland that ran the length of the natural ridge that led up to the next stage of the hike. In spring, this section of the track is wall-to-wall wildflowers, but in autumn, the only spot of colour came from a handful of orange grevilleas.

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The scrub gives way to heath along the third section. As we climbed higher, the trees became taller and more dense, the track less sandy. This part of the trail was more of a muddy, temperate forest and it was here I was able to test out the waterproof quality of my new hiking boots.

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This was my favourite part of the trail: still steep-ish and entertaining but with interesting views through the canopy. It was up here we heard the call of a lyrebird. I’d recently watched a documentary that showed the phenomenal ability of the lyrebird to imitate the call of other birds as well as human sounds (such as the click of a camera, a car alarm and a chainsaw), so it was special to be able to hear it in the wild.

At the base of the sandstone cliff face that made up the peak was a series of ladders. This was final stage of our ascent and we were making great time. An old man we passed on the trail spoke of his memories hiking Pigeon as a much younger man, when the only way to reach the peak was via a series of ropes. I’ll take ladders over ropes any day!

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The ladders were ice-cold to the touch (which is always preferable to red-hot) and relatively easy to manage even though we both struck our shins on them multiple times. Two of the original steel ladders are still in use today.

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At the top of the ladders, we had to scramble over a few boulders to reach the summit. It was a relatively clear day and we could see as far south as Tuross and as far north as Jervis Bay. From above, the Budawang Valley looked similar to the Blue Mountains – with its wide valleys, long plateaus and colours.

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We had reached the summit, but I was not as enraptured as I thought I would be. Few things are as enjoyable in the moment as they are for me in memory. But I took five minutes to commit the views and my feelings about achieving this to memory, snapped a few photos and turned for home.

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The return journey was fast, comparatively, and we passed plenty of groups on their way up: young couples, old folks, families with young children, and one ultra-marathoner. When we set out, the carpark had only three other cars and over 20 when we returned. We weren’t the only people with this idea over the Easter long weekend.

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We made great time on the trail, too. Instead of the return journey taking us 8 hours, we managed to complete the trail in 2h16m (perhaps the NPWS were just erring on the side of caution?).

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When you rely on cars or public transport every day, the simple act of using your own feet can bring a great sense of achievement. It’s a great reminder for me to use my abilities to achieve bigger things, more often.

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