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Sunday, August 11, 2013

A sunset interlude

Armidale sunset 7 August 2013 [Photo: Tracey James]
 It's my standard practice to have an afternoon sleep, and I really mean, sleep. Dead to the world, for a couple of hours. If I don't, I get ratty by 9.30 pm and have to go to bed then. That's unbelievable for me. 9.30 pm is just when I'm hitting my straps. At home, we don't ever go to bed before 12.30 pm.

   It seems that my waking time here for that sleep in hospital is usually 5.20 pm - just in time to freshen up a bit before dinner arrives. What a coincidence, you say.

   Come on now, don't be mean.

   Yesterday afternoon, it followed that pattern. I woke on cue, found one of my secret store of pristine paper serviettes entirely untouched by human hands apart from mine and those of the person who put it on my tray. I sprinkled its folded surface quickly with water from my drink bottle and dabbed my eyes and face with it, and disposed of it in the waste bin on the floor at hand's length.

   In the first weeks I came here, this was my only way of freshening up after sleeping, because of my lack of mobility. I admit I've kept it up even though I now do have the mobility to get to the bathroom with a zimmer frame. I have my reasons for doing it this way unrelated to laziness.

   For people with physical disabilities in particular, everything in an unfamiliar environment is about solving new little problems. Little for you, big for us. I could write an entire blog posting on that, but I'd have to finish it before I knew whether I thought it was good enough to post, so... another time. Dave will know instantly what I'm talking about.

   It's nothing for me now to slip across to my chair even without the frame. When I first came, there was the frame and one or two nurses standing by. Physio guidance and newfound determination to stand and get mobile have done the trick. Well, let's be accurate, have begun to do it.

   Before dinner arrives, a nurse trundles in with the routine blood pressure/temperature monitors.

   "I'll bet my blood pressure has gone up since this morning."

   "You've just woken up," she says. "It shouldn't have."

   "It will have."

   It has, by twenty points. She doesn't know that yesterday morning when it was taken I'd been exercising not long before. I'm funny like that but it's always been the way. Exercise half an hour before a reading is taken and it's way down.

   The moral is, don't panic if the doctor measures yours and it's higher or lower than normal. It could be significant but it mightn't be a true indication of what your blood pressure really is on average.

   So mine was quite high.

   "I don't like that systolic reading," I say, "and the other one... the – it won't come to me but I improvise – the PREhistolic one's not the best either."

   She laughs loudly.

   "Well," I say, "I'm an historian by trade, and if there's historic stuff and prehistoric...."

   "DIA-stolic!" she says,"The big one's diastolic and the little one's systolic."

   "Funny," I say to her, "I always thought it was the other way round."


   She's definite, but as soon as she's gone I google it. I'm bloody well right.
Doctors call them systolic (the top number) and diastolic (the bottom number) blood pressure.

   I'm gonna see if she's willing to take a bet on it next time we meet. This is going to be fun... I have to think what the stake is though.

   Dinner came. (OK, pedants, I know I changed tense, but hell, musicians can change key, so don't try to stop me.)

   What did I order? I never have the faintest notion. Soup. OK. It's vegetable soup, now I remember. It's good. Good-ish then.

   I don't think the general food quality's gone up. Maybe it's just that my expectations have dropped and/or my choices are slightly better.

   What next? Looking at them, I remember them from my order also. Vegetable patties. Two of. Bigger than the palm of your hand except if you're a top-grade AFL player or maybe a discus thrower who's won a medal, any colour, at the Olympics.

   This is Friday, and my proteinuria test's already over. Why am I not hoeing into a steak composed of some portion of what my almost-vegan friend calls "dead animal"?

   Here's the sad truth. Not only is it that an eye fillet or tender piece of flesh hacked from the hind quarters of a cute little woolly animal are not on the menu, I can't comfortably digest it any more. I know, it's shattering. I'm horrified myself.

   At least this time it is correctly named, unlike the "salmon"-vegetable patties in the first week that a fish of some description may have swum over in the making, and I decided on baby carrots alone, having resolved never to go back to the poultice described on the menu as mashed potato. That was the first and final occasion.

   I don't know if it's policy, but there's invariably the same quantity of veg. on the plate, no matter what the variety. I suspect each plate is put on the scales and whatever is ordered is ladled on until the needle tips.  

   When I hastily banished "mashed potato" from mine, the space was filled by extra of beans, broccoli and carrots. I dropped the beans because they looked so sad, and more broccoli and peas bravely gave their lives as a result.

   This time, I dropped everything from my order but the baby carrots, and whaddya know. Some ripped-off carrot farmer's entire harvest surrounded the vegetable patties on all sides and completely controlled air space as well. The patties stood their ground strongly, and I ate them with my fingers like giant sized ANZAC biscuits, forking in at intervals as many baby carrot rings as I could manage.

  For dessert, a clear plastic square container boldly exhibited two pear slices looking for all the world like foetuses in yin-yang orientation (that's 69 possie if you haven't yet grasped one of the fundamentals of Chinese philosophy but have learned a bit from SBS late-night movies). These foetuses were in an amniotic fluid of unmistakably yellow custard. Not, I suspect, the sort of amniotic fluid you would want to have.

   The metaphor's getting way too murky, but it tasted pretty good.

   That was my sunset interlude and, as Dale Kerrigan says in the wonderful Oz movie, The Castle, that is my story THE END.


  1. In 2003 my husband was in hospital with a subdural hematoma which he acquired whilst skiing. I will not mention the hospital but it was a major one in Sydney. After the operation and whilst all his vital signs were being checked both he and the young nurse kept on saying that the checklist was incorrect as they were testing his reflexes etc on the left side when the injury was on the right. They both scoffed when I explained that the instructions were right. I smiled smugly, I must admit, when proven correct. I had insisted the right measurements be taken as well as the ones they did! Anne P.

    1. I believe you. Several times here I was presented with wrong combinations of my pills and had to show when they went back to their complicated doctors list with generic names that they were wrong. None was a serious error but it makes me wonder in very busy hospitals just how many mistakes are made. I witnessed a classic episode of that in my daughter's case in Sydney, but that's another story.

  2. When I said "right" measurement I meant "correct" measurements ie the left side.

    I am glad the twin foetuses tasted nice and the amniotic fluid was of a superior kind. Anne P

    1. I'm not left confused by your first sentence!

      Not bad. I was going to carry on with the amniotic thing but it did indeed get murky and time to stop. :)

  3. Ah me... It is a joy to have such pictures painted of the hospital life. Scary about diastolic though as it must have been gone over so many times.

    I have my longest ever Rehab hospital stay coming up in the first three weeks of September. Your physio comment reminds me of the promise of that stay.

    1. I did wonder if in an emergency the consequences of a mix-up of those.

      I'm writing another story about hospital life which I put on the back burner when the above incident occurred and can't wait to see how it strikes you.

      The first 3 weeks here went quite fast, so yours may go that fast as well. May your physio do as much good as mine has done.

  4. It continues to astonish me that the recounting of such small, ordinary aspects of human experience is such gripping reading.

    And you even slipped in there reference to Dave's all-time-favourite movie, The Castle. I advise you not to watch it with him because he laughs so hard, and in advance, at all the punch lines, that it's impossible to hear the dialogue!

    My only objection is to the last two words.
    "The End".
    I sincerely hope not!!
    Please provide major reassurance here, Dr Wright.

    1. Don't worry re Castle. I've seen it so many times I know every line and I'd be laughing at Dave's amusement. Thomas Keneally described The Castle as the perfect Australian movie. High praise indeed. I'm inclined to agree.

      Tracey asked my why I put "The End" in and that some might think as you did. Somehow it made me think of those old movies where they assured us at that point that the movie was over. There are some movies these days that you wish they said so.

  5. Loved the sunset picture, Denis. I spend a lot of time getting those 'what's-it-stolic' figures right. It can take up to four readings over 15-20 minutes until I achieve a result low enough for my cardiologist to accept.

    1. Do some solid exercise as soon before s/he takes the reading as you can and surprise them. Mine was a ripper this morning.

    2. I meant to preface all that by saying how terrific Tracey is as a photographer but it's obvious anyway. She's also brilliant with a movie camera as proven in our movie business in another era.


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