It was an auspicious omen.
The letterbox was cheap, and my favourite colour.
I have marked my territory.
It was an auspicious omen.
The letterbox was cheap, and my favourite colour.
I have marked my territory.
Dr. Steven Novella
Neurology, Yale University
Dr. Novella knew he was headed into the lion’s den when he accepted an invitation to go on the notorious Dr. Oz show, perhaps history’s most influential promoter of unscientific alternative medicine. He was there to represent science-based criticism of alternative medicine, and hoped to make the best of the opportunity the producers afforded him.
All signs were good until the cameras started rolling, and from that moment on, it was hopeless. Allowed only a few seconds to answer each of Dr. Oz’s questions, Dr. Novella did the best anyone could, but each of his points was followed up by counterpoints from:
• An alt-med doctor sitting beside him, given an unchallenged opportunity to refute each of Dr. Novella’s points;
• Other alt-med professionals stationed in the audience, also given chances to refute Novella’s points, with never a chance for him to counter; and
• Slick pre-produced taped segments blatantly misrepresenting alternative medicine as being backed by strong experimental evidence.
Even when they don’t quote mine or use the editor’s razor, the most motivated television producers still have plenty of tools in their arsenal to turn the tables against good science and promote nonsense.
Science Friction is a new documentary film that will expose these faux documentaries, and give the scientists a chance to clear the record. The film is being crowdfunded.
Yesterday, my favourite young nurse, with whom I am completely in love, helped me complete my health care plan for the coming year. I’m in love not because she is beautiful, although she is, but because she understands me. If only I was forty years younger.
We see each other only once or twice a year, and since my last visit much has changed. I can tell when people are gushing and cooing because it is their job to be encouraging, and when they mean it. Her genuine pleasure at my progress was touching. Her understanding of my mental state and my pragmatic approach to it tells me she has a black dog too.
It was she who introduced me to the MyFitnessPal app, which helped me get my main issue under control. I thanked her for that. Now at last we can turn to the matter of the legs and feet, and the pain. Not just to manage it, but to do something about it. That was not really an option until I shed some weight.
She laughed when I told her about the Really Really Fat Persons Support Group, she told me I was her favourite patient. I bet she says that to all the boys.
By pure coincidence, while I was waiting at the surgery, I received a call from Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, asking me to do another blood and urine test. They had already supplied me with the necessary form, which I carried with my medical summary in my man-bag. The pathology lab is right there at the surgery so it was a simple matter after my appointment to drop in, bleed and pee in a cup.
I then checked out the op-shops in Woodford for clothes. But I think I’m too fussy. I’ll try Caboolture later. On the way home I drove straight past Beefy’s for the second time this week. That’s willpower.
I felt so positive that rather than stop off at the pool for a swim on my way back, I drove all the way home, had a light lunch, hopped on the bike,’ and pedalled back to the aquatic centre. That’s dedication.
After the swim I rode home and immediately took a nap until 8 pm. That’s old age.
I go to the bush
With my black dog on a leash
I return alone.
The other day in the changing room at the pool I met Julius. Fit, firm, muscular and tanned with a shock of grey hair that rivalled mine before I cut it, he looked much like I aspire to. My casual “How are you going?” unleashed an expletive – laden account of depression and unhappiness that caused a conversation of over half an hour. His life had no purpose. His family no longer needed him, he had no job satisfaction. He was getting nowhere. He’d lost a lot in a property settlement. He wanted to be dead. Whenever he saw a report of someone being killed he wished it had been him. And so on.
,A lot of what he said resonated with me. I told him I had an inkling of how he felt and that I shared some of his experience. I was very concerned not to enable his suicidal thoughts and looked for ways to talk through them. I asked if he had sought medical help. I told him I had found a lot of help with Prozac. It might not be for everyone, but there was undoubtedly something similar that might help in his case. He was dismissive. He did not want to put that stuff in his body. I asked if he preferred to have sadness and sorrow. There was an alternative. I have been on medication for ten year’s over. It helps.
He asked how old I was, I told him.
“Christ, you’ve had eight years of this shit more than I have”.
I could only tell him that it wasn’t all bad, and though I had been right where he was not so long ago, there is another side. I urged him to get help. We talked on for a while. In the end he shook my hand, told me his name and asked mine, then bid me goodbye, saying he was pleased to have met me.
I don’t quite know what to make of that encounter. On the way home I pondered whether there was ever a time when it was ok to decide one had endured enough and there was nothing left in life to give it purpose and meaning. What circumstances would make it a reasonable decision?
From his physical appearance, Julius has no reason for such despair unless he has been diagnosed with something as yet invisible but terminal. From a social and mental health perspective it is harder to comment. There are creative and intellectual considerations. There could be matters of conscience.
Though I have been where Julius seems to be, I don’t think it was ever more than a passing moment of self-pity and self-doubt that was easily managed by an appropriate dose of fluoxetine and a jolly good talking-to.
“On the other hand, there are plausible circumstances that I can envisage. Perhaps, should there come a time when the pain is too much, the prognosis too bleak, and the point has been so completely lost, I may need to think along those lines. If so I’d like to think I shall make the decision rationally, deliberately, and without despair. At such a time it would be wrong to dissuade me. I would not have “so much to live for” any longer. There would be something unpleasant to avoid and nothing still left I’d care to do. Particularly if the cost of doing it was too great. Then the inevitable end should be embraced and welcomed in a manner of my own choosing, rather than slowly, fearfully and painfully. At such a time I would prefer to go gentle into that good night. Joyfully, even, knowing I have done, and had, enough.
This could have been a very depressing encounter. Oddly, in the end I concluded I was ok. I worry about whether I shall see Julius again, and what I should do if we meet. Should I invite him out for a drink and a chat?
At first I had my doubts about the claimed 80 km range for the lithium battery in my bicycle. When I started I was returning after only twelve to fifteen km with the battery already half flat. That was when I was relying heavily on the electric motor to supplement my travels. Now the battery is not even a quarter used on my return from a ride of 12 to 15 km.
I have since learned to read the LED indicators that tell me how much contribution the battery is making to my progress. I have also relearned how to use all six of the gears to ensure I am making the most significant contribution, even up the few rare steep inclines I encounter.
Most importantly, I have learned that by maintaining the right posture I can control the knee discomfort and let my thigh muscles do the work. I contribute much more and I think I’m now probably putting in 60 to 70% of the effort.
Which is not to say I could do it all. I turned the motor off and tried. No. Not yet.
At the end of a ride my legs remind me they have been working hard, just as my shoulders do after a swim. The bathroom scales are beginning to confirm the predictions of my kilojoule log.
Speaking of working, I have been using the MyFitness app for over 185 days in a row according to the laudatory message it sent me a couple of days ago. In that time I have shed 17kg. Almost the kilo per ten days I set as a goal. Allowing for a little backsliding and some reward feasts on special occasions, I think that is a creditable effort.
What is not so encouraging is just how much there is left to lose. The mirror shows very little change so far. Even keeping up the current progress will take well over another 185 days to get halfway to my goal weight. There is no room for complacency.
I’ve been a wanderer all of my life, and many’s the sight I’ve seen…
There is no Aberdeen to which I long to return. My whole life has been spent moving on. There has never been anywhere for me to return to, because it was no longer there after I left.
I can remember two homes in England before I was five. We had five more homes in four towns in New Zealand before I was eleven.
The most stable period of my youth was my teenage years in West Auckland. After that I moved around a lot again, until I acquired a family and had a second, relatively stable, period with them in only three locations. And that didn’t last either. Not nearly as long as I wanted. It was not my choice. Which does not mean it was not my fault. I don’t know.
What I do know is there is nowhere to which I can return. No family seat, no family. Just scattered relatives. A few friends.
In the small hours I wonder “What if?” There is no answer except the soft early call of the magpie who roosts in the trees behind my caravan.
I ponder the events that led me here. Living with anyone is difficult. When does the effort become too much? Is the person wiser who decides “enough” or the one who keeps trying? Who is at fault, when someone calls enough? Perhaps the fault must always be borne by both.
I am trying to be more zen in my introspection and self-appraisal. I accept what is, but still can’t help wondering what if? I am the sum of my memories. I owe it to myself and the world to ensure my memories are honest and clear.
I was not a good son, I was not a good brother, I proved to be a poor husband, Twice. I truly don’t know any more what kind of father I was. I want to write accurately about my memories. Of what made me what I am. That will not always put me in a good light, but it also may not please those who get to see themselves as I saw them. They may see my perception of causality as blame. But one does not blame the sun for sunburn. It is what happens.
Well. Wow. I didn’t know that was where I was going when I started this post.
I’m not doing nearly as well as I expected, despite some positive signs. In the pool yesterday, I spotted something someone had dropped in the deep end and dived to retrieve it. Successfully. That may not seem much of an accomplishment but not so long ago I was so buoyant with adiposity that I could not sink no matter how I tried. Though I could float on my back and snooze without fear of drowning, I could not reach the bottom of the pool no matter how hard I tried. Now, I can swim down.
This positive sign perhaps explains why my weight loss graph has plateaued in the last couple of weeks. I’m developing muscle, which is denser than fat. I am still incrementally tightening the drawstring in my waistband, so something positive is happening.
The best time of day is when I am weightless in the pool. I am virtually pain and discomfort free . I feel as fit as I was when I made my marathon swim around Mayor Island over 47 years ago. But climbing out and returning to the gravity of the world leaves me limping and hobbling like the old man I have become. Riding the bicycle is my second pleasure. Seated, so my knees bear no weight, and with my feet positioned properly on the pedals, the discomfort in my knees is minimal, and the ache in the muscles of my calves and thighs is an acceptable sign of effort being rewarded. Climbing off the bike at the end of my journey is a painful return to reality. I have to take care not to fall over. I believe it is time to talk to the doc about new knees, and get onto that waiting list.
My mental buoyancy is better. Despite occasional bouts of loneliness when I am acutely aware that I am far away from my family and closest friends, I am coming to embrace solitude, and the self-awareness that comes with it. I have left so much behind. Lost so much. I am not, and never was, the person I wanted to be. Perhaps I am where I am now because it is where I deserve to be. That is not self-pity, it is self-appraisal.
Part of me wants to return to New Zealand, but why? My family don’t need me. I actually have fewer friends there than I do in Western Australia – and the weather is worse. I’d be financially worse off. Plus there is the inertia that seems to come with old age. I find it difficult to even contemplate moving on from the camp I am in.
One of my neighbours has a sign on his cabin “Der Komandant, Stalag Luft 13”. The old chap has a sense of humour like mine. Despite the title he has given himself, he knows he is a prisoner, like the rest of us.