De Morte

Now that I’ve had a nap, and a glass of wine with my dinner, my reflections on today have given me some insights. It was indeed embarrassing; both for the GP with an unnecessarily concerned patient, and for the patient.

I too quickly leapt to a conclusion. When I received the previous call back, I made the appointment by phone, and asked for a hint of what the doctor wanted to discuss. Of course the receptionist was not falling for that one. This time, I didn’t ring, but just booked via the booking app. If I had rung, no doubt some confusion and distress might have been avoided. Or perhaps not.

No harm, no foul. A lesson learned.

My own (over)reaction ranged from considering the simple possibility that I was just going to lose a bit more of my arm, to the increasingly more sinister implications of chemo, radiation, drastic surgery and a short and painful prognosis. I missed the one I should have considered first; it’s probably nothing serious.

I also thought about where I was right now. From a medical standpoint, possibly the best possible place in the world. I have free medical treatment in a country well equipped and experienced with skin cancer.

I am between 2,500 and 3,600 km away from my closest friends and relatives in any direction. I’m paying the price of having been too far for too long from my immediate and extended family. I explored some time ago the possibility of returning to NZ. My visit only confirmed you can’t go back. Even returning would have to be a going forward. I couldn’t see the way.

My local support group consists of two very kind new acquaintances. I have one person with whom I have regular long distance telephone conversations, a friend who has experience with basal cell carcinoma. It used to be we only had dogs, emus and cooking as common interests. I’d have preferred to stick to that.

Today was, therefore, a reminder of what it is to be alone and ageing. As if I needed one.

Memento Mori

Laundry day is also the day I do the routine maintenance and hygiene tasks associated with Caer Ibormeith , my CPAP goddess of sleep, who gently breathes nightly into my nostrils. You know you are an eccentric when your appliances and vehicles have names – and you talk to them.

I gently changed her air filter, cleaned out her humidifier tank, and washed her hose and nasal pillows, telling her as I did how very much I appreciate her company and support. Today she spoke back. On her little screen where a smiley face usually assures me all is well, was a dire message.

“Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori!”

I rang my service provider, Andrea, in Albany, WA. I told her of this ominous message. I asked what I should do.

“You now have a piece of string. We don’t know how long it is. Keep using it, but it could fail at any time. Then you’ll need to look for a new one.”

“Can’t I send her somewhere to be serviced?”

“No. They are not built to be serviced. That would cost more than replacing it.”

“Her.”

“When did you get it?” She consulted her computer. “2013. It’s lasted you well. “

“She has. I’ve had marriages that didn’t last that long.”

“I remember you now – You joker”.

“Yeah, that’s me. Thanks for the advice, Andrea. I appreciate it. I hope she lasts me a while longer. I guess I can find a local supplier when the time comes. Bye.” I hung up.

It’s just a thing. It can’t love me. But I feel as if she does. I was in pretty bad shape before we met.

.38 Special

In the very early 70s when I was working as a leading hand at the Ceracrete Panel co. In Keeling Ave. one of my workmates invited me to his home for a meal one weekend. He got me terribly drunk, and I think he slipped me a Mickey in my drinks, because I don’t remember much after dinner. Apparently he drove me home. I assume his wife drove my car. My dad says I was really rude when they brought me home, and I went straight to bed, I remember nothing of the event after dinner.

However, I discovered next day I was the owner of a Smith & Wesson model 14 .38 Police Special with a four inch barrel, that I had apparently bought for $50. I knew nothing of its provenance, or how it came to be in the possession of the person from whom I apparently bought it. I don’t know how it was smuggled into New Zealand or whether it had been used in a crime.

All I know is I had in my hands a very illegal double action revolver with eight rounds of ammunition. I recall now that as a person in his early twenties, I thought, at first, this was pretty cool, though I did not ever carry it round tucked into the back of my pants. Not that cool, not that stupid. Even then.

Yes. I thought it was cool. Until the day I took it to the pine forest at Muriwai and tried it out, firing it at a tree. One shot. It scared the shit out of me. It was accurate, it was powerful, and it was fucking loud. The noise astounded me. The recoil shocked me. This was before I bought my (legal) .303 rifle. Until then I had only ever fired an air gun.

I did not know what to do. The enormity if what I had in my hand suddenly dawned on me. An illegal, lethal weapon that could send me to jail. And I had just discharged it for anyone to hear. I quickly skedaddled.

I took it home and hid it. Sorry Dad.

Fortunately, I had a friend who had a friend who was a legitimate gun collector. He took me to meet him, and that person agreed to take the revolver off my hands for the price I’d paid for it. Apparently it’s a classic. Collectible. How he accounted for it in his collection I know not, and care not. It was off my hands. That was all I cared about.

That is my pistol story. I’m drunk right now, or I wouldn’t be telling it.

Spot the Difference

I’m pleased I swam yesterday and managed another, early swim this morning. It will be Thursday before I can swim again, provided the wounds are not infected when I remove the dressings.

I was at the pool by seven this morning, and in the water by seven fifteen. I swam until nine, then went to shower. The lid of my shampoo bottle had broken. The shampoo had disgorged itself into my toilet bag. So I used it up as body wash. I should have no problems with dandruff anywhere, for a while.

As I washed I spotted on my right forearm what I thought must be a new mole. I was sure it wasn’t there a while ago. Since finding the lesion on my left arm, I am now more aware of my freckles and moles. Especially since the one I was having excised today had not been there only weeks before.

When I got to Woodford I drew the mole to Mehdi’s attention. He peered at it through his magic optical device, and said “I think you are right”.

“So. That was well spotted” said I with a straight face. Mehdi agreed. Also with a straight face.

That was how I came to have two excisions. One on each arm. Now we wait for the biopsy report.

Two huge chunks were cut out. It is necessary to get all the tissue for three millimeters around the spot, and to cut the length three times the width, so that when it heals, the scar doesn’t pucker up. Five stitches each. Ten total. My new personal best.

I’m glad it wasn’t on my tat.

Not there before.

Mehdi told me he had seen my knee x-rays. My condition is severe and he is referring me to a specialist. The journey has begun.

Having had only an eight hundred kJ breakfast, I was famished by the time I was driving home. I managed to drive past Beefy’s without giving in to temptation, but then the thought of a nice piece of crumbed barramundi popped into my head. I gave in to temptation and set my course.

Saviges did not have barramundi available so I ordered a piece of crumbed cod. And a serve of chips. What the hell.

The cod was delicious. A large fillet. Perfectly cooked.

Eric the bin chicken helped me out by eating some of the coating. He didn’t get much of the fish at first, though I shared some chips. Once he understood I wasn’t going to grab him and wring his neck, or spray him with the diluted vinegar spray put out on the tables by the proprietors for just such occasions, he became quite friendly, and cheerfully ate from my hand.

I was talking to him all the time, just making conversation, asking about his family and whether he preferred battered or crumbed fish, and whether he was in fact female.

Some of the patrons were giving me the disapproving looks of those who do not believe wildlife, especially ibis, should be fed human food. Some gave me the look reserved for people of alternate ability that they are embarrassed by. Others were smiling. Whether at me or the bird I know not and care not. They were smiling. With their eyes. My kind of people.

I have certainly changed. There was more fish than I needed and in the end my ibis friend got a bit. There was still a heap of chips left. He looked enquiringly at them. “I’ve had enough” I said. He looked hopeful. “and so have you”. He said he hadn’t. I told him I was taking the rest home home. He gave a resigned shrug and wandered off.

At home I divided the remaining chips into three portions, which I put in cold storage to have with other meals. Not bad for four dollars fifty worth of chips.

Lessons.

Today was a day in which I learned, or was reminded of, several important things. It was intended to be a quiet day sorting out the van and disposing of things that are no longer needful, or that do not bring me joy. I am decluttering with a ruthlessness that would make David finally proud of me.

Having swum ninety minutes every day this week I thought I’d take a break, but then, in a fit of energy, and procrastination, I rationalised that I may not be able to swim for a while after the surgery tomorrow. So I should definitely go today. The truth is, I am becoming a swim junkie. I need my fix of weightless, fluid, pain-free motion with good music, the cool silky feel of water flowing over my skin.

Also I had spotted in the Target catalogue, a cheap, small microwave oven that looked as if it might fit into the space created for one in the caravan, a space currently filled with sauce bottles and assorted condiments that do not require refrigeration. I decided I need a microwave, now that I am on mains power semi permanently.

I measured the space and recorded the dimensions on my phone. Then went for a swim. I forgot my walking stick. Emerging from the pool and feeling the return of gravity, I regretted my decision not to go back for it. I decided I need three. One always in the car, one in the bike trailer, and one at home. It is getting hard to do without it.

After my swim, I showered, changed and headed for Target. I stopped into the bargain shop first to pick up an extra walking stick.

In Target I found the oven I was interested in, pulled out my tape measure, and checked the dimensions of the front of the oven. It would fit. I picked up a boxed oven from the shelf below the display and headed for the checkout. By the time I got there, I knew I had made a serious mistake. The shooting pains in my legs and the grinding sounds from my knees told me both they and my back were buggered from this weightlifting exercise. It was only a small oven!

I left it by the checkout and went in search of a trolley. I had not limped far at all before I needed a rest. I leaned on my stick in the forward leaning pose that seems to give me relief. A young woman, who had been at the checkout behind me, came up to me, pointed at a bench and told me to sit there while she found me a trolley. She then headed down to Woolworths at the other end of the mall, returning with a trolley.

What a sweetheart. Her name is Tara. I felt so old. Especially when she patted me on the shoulder and told me that like me, her grandma was always trying to do more than she was now capable of. Hey, I’m father material, not grandad. But of course, I was her age when my grandad was my age.

Such people are the treasures of humanity as much as any great Nobel laureate.

Once I had a trolley to lean on, I was fine. I collected the oven and transferred it to the cruiser. Back at the caravan I unboxed it and carefully, if painfully, carried it inside. Of course it did not fit into the space available. Only the face had the right dimensions, and even then, only just. A short existential crisis until I realised I could remove the top of the cupboard, insert the oven and put the top back. A quick gathering of tools and the step-stool I call the standy on-thing.

First, I put insect screen over the ventilation hole through the wall of the caravan. That should keep out the ants and insects that might otherwise colonise the back of the oven.

It did fit though the cupboard top does not quite go back as snugly as before. I then reheated some cold coffee in a mug. No more reheating in a saucepan on the gas stove and forgetting it.

But I now need to find somewhere to put all the sauce bottles and assorted condiments that do not require refrigeration.

I wondered at the marvellous technology before me that cost only $68. I remembered my first microwave and how expensive it was. This thing cost little more than a packet of 40 cigarettes, or an hour of my wages, back when I was earning them.

That made me think of all the man hours and material that went into manufacturing it. If the retail price is so low, how much do those who do the real work get? Then I felt guilty. This is why the world is in crisis.

But coffee. And reheated chicken, turkey and chorizo in mushroom sauce.

On This Day

Today is the anniversary of the second of the two most important days of my life. Two events that both completely changed my view of the world and my place in it.

This is the anniversary of when I fell completely, and utterly, in love. Once again.

The first thing I learned when my second daughter was born was that there is always room in the heart for one more. I loved my first daughter, now a cute and precocious two year old, so much that sometimes during the time of expectancy I had been genuinely concerned I might not be able to love this newcomer as well. It was a fear that vanished without trace on her arrival.

That arrival was just as fraught with difficulty as was her sister’s before. Distressed foetal syndrome and a caesarean. But this time I was allowed to be present. Watching a caesarean is fascinating and frightening. I concentrated on holding June’s hand and being reassuring.

The surgeon jokingly warned me that if I fainted, he would just stand on me and carry on with his work. June was conscious. She’d had an epidural. The previous time she had been under general anaesthetic, so this must have been even more frightening for her than for me.

When the hospital staff held up the still and silent chocolate-blue child my heart stopped. I’ve never, ever, been more frightened. In fact I realised at that moment, I had never really been frightened before at all. I cannot express the dread I felt just then.

Suddenly she let out a cry and miraculously turned pink right then and there in front of me. I treasure that memory as I do the one where I was introduced to her sister, so tiny in an incubator, tubes up her nose, two years before.

I shall never stop loving June for what she went through to bring those two into the world. If ever frustration or resentment arises when I think of how things eventually turned out, I remind myself of this.

I shall never stop loving those two girls, for the meaning they brought into my existence. Flawed as it must have been, parenthood is the one thing that really gave my life any significance.

These wonderful young women that June and I made.

And that’s all I have to say about that.