'Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.' ... Buddha.
It's not always so easy in the real world.
Bruno lies beside me while I watch TV at night. He often sits up and takes an avid interest. Yes, when there's a dog or a cat or some other animal on the screen, but sometimes it's only people doing very ordinary people things. A friend dropped in on Wednesday night and noticed Bruno's behavior. 'That's like my dog,' he said. He told me he took his dog to the movies last week and the dog sat there on his seat utterly engrossed in the entire movie. At the end the woman in the next seat nodded at the dog and said 'That's amazing.' 'I'll say,' my friend agreed. 'He didn't think much of the book.'
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June 27, 1984 - PHH, Melbourne
I'm in my wheelchair beside my bed waiting for Physio. It's that one dozy peaceful time of the day - that wonderful hour between lunchtime and afternoon visitors with most nurses away at their lunch, that wonderful hour when it's good and restful in here - so it's odds on then that Cloth Man will materialize soon. God, he used to annoy me before I had the Etran board.
He'd appear at our door and look from bed to bed -‘Sleeping - sleeping - he's awake, but he's said no - ditto - ditto - aha! There's that poor man Danny. He can't move, he can't even talk - I'll comfort him with God's Word.’ (Translation: He's the perfect captive audience, so I'll drive him mad with prayers.) You see, the patient just has to say no and then they see he respects that `no', but for the patient incapable of delivering a ‘no’?Once Speechy got me the board and we'd schooled a nurse in its use I requested that Cloth Man desist, using words of utmost restraint.
My mind wandered to Cloth Man, because I'm all dressed up ready to go, but Physio's late. Rainbow can't get in today, so Physio's using the time for a walk. She decreed a while ago that I have to get out of bed every day too, in a lounge chair near my drip feed, because sitting in a chair helps strengthen my neck and get my balance better. Then about two weeks ago she took me outside in a wheelchair. My neck was still so weak that she had to hold my head to stop it from lolling uncontrollably, but already I've improved my muscular strength enough to manage a half hour outing without being supported.
Robin's weekly visits had become a highlight for the nurses as well as for me by then. Alec was my closest friend (even though I hadn’t seen a lot of him since he married a dozen years ago) and he's taken to accompanying Robin. I've often wondered why Alec regarded me as a good mate - I guess I simply don't remember the years of quiet mateship very clearly, but instead remember the highlights, and even at this I only remember the things that were good in my eyes. I hope I'm not too abnormal in this. A great part of my life has blurred into a fog of ordinariness. Unless I think very hard my courtship of Innocent was little more than a few hazy times in the back of my lovely old 1947 Rover, and our marriage was the glug of Para port being poured, and Harvey Warbangers and passionate drunken lovemaking on the mat beside our bed. Most of my life is now held in my memory in such highlights.
I remember Alec being present when I stripped off in the snow and swam in icy Lake Eucumbene in mid-winter just to win a twenty-cent bet, and again when I crawled into a country cafe on all fours for some reason or other. He drained the gearbox in his father's car and topped up the engine oil by six pints on my mistaken say so - the dry gearbox lasted nearly a thousand kilometres. He held my ankles as I hung upside-down outside our second-storey flat window to clear a blocked drainpipe and he was witness to more of my amorous disasters than I care to count. We'd drifted apart as adults, but when I finally needed more support than I was aware of he and Robin banded together to help me.
Every week I hear them arrive on our ward long before they enter this room. Actually I don't hear them at first - I hear the delighted pseudo-angry squeals of nurse after nurse as they joke their way to my bed. Physio sensed the competence under their fun-loving exteriors, so seeing I came through my outing with her she prevailed on them to take me for walks, just like she had with Rainbow. The first time they must have whisked me just two hundred metres along the footpath before my wheelchair hit a bump and I tumbled a--- over tit onto the ground. I lay helplessly while they re-adjusted my chair cushion, and although the footpath was packed with office workers not one of those homeward-bound lemmings offered us any help.
Usually I'd ask that my outings be cut short. I'd shed so much muscle during my time in ICU that my bum was little more than skin and bone. After a short time bumping along the city's rough footpaths it'd just about be screaming with pain. If Alec and Robin were with me they'd make light of hospital regulations and would combine to lift me back into bed, but were I with Rainbow she'd have to ask a nurse to help her lift me. Regulations prohibit any civilian lifting a patient in a hospital, but as Rainbow wasn't tiny and frail and was very competent most nurses were happy to have her help them lift.
The more senior nurses become the more they get to be sticklers for rules - in fact a senior nurse can easily be a pain in the neck. If Rainbow accidentally asks a nurse in authority for her help that nurse will most likely insist on finding another nurse to help her with the simple top-and-tail lift. This can take over half an hour and will reduce me to tears of agony from further pain in the bum.
Just across the road from the hospital were the Melbourne's botanic gardens and Rainbow would wander its paths with me sometimes. We’d be fine for a while, before then my bony bum would start screaming with a vengeance without prior warning. One day Rainbow miscued as she tried to get my chair down over the kerb edging St Kilda Rd, and I made the bitumen's acquaintance. We had been trying to cross directly to PHH, but each time after that disaster we'd walk two extra blocks to a set of traffic lights.
Whenever I sat up for long, like on a walk, I'd drool because I can't voluntarily gulp or swallow and can't press my lips shut tight. When I was lying down my saliva would naturally run back and down my throat, but when I was sitting up this saliva would run forward and stream out between my lips. Whenever we went for a walk Rainbow would take a box of tissues for my drooling - when coupled with my uncontrolled laughter this drooling often made me appear to be an idiot.
Speechy told me that after about a year the dribble might be well on the way to disappearing as my ability to swallow improved, but the ward doctor here suggested that I have it stopped surgically. As I'm attached to my saliva glands (probably because I naively believe they exist for good reason), and as the drooling problem will gradually rectify itself, I declined his suggestion gracefully.
Physio started working flat out to get me stronger and stuff last week, because she says they'll have to get rid of me soon. PHH is a big city hospital that's really here to handle Acute patients, ones who need treatment fast and who aren't here for a very long time. The sudden onset of my near-fatal cardio-vascular accident (CVA - the stroke) sort of qualified me as acute, but at some indefinable time in the next four months I crossed the line from acute to chronic, so they're looking around for a rehabilitation hospital to take me.
They were talking about city rehab hospitals, but I've asked them to try to get me into somewhere closer to home - our home being a little property in the bush near Castlemaine - Granny Thomas Gully or GTG to us. That way Rainbow can move back home. There's a good chance they'll get me into the Bendigo hospital, which is just forty minutes from home.They weren't sure if Bendigo was as well-equipped or as well-staffed as PHH, so they put me on a crash `toughening up - less care' program.
I sit in a wheelchair each day for progressively-longer periods, so that by the time I left PHH I'd be able to tolerate sitting for about six hours - at PHH any more than two or three hours was hell. Suctioning was decreed to be necessary for me very frequently for the previous four months, but they worked on the premise of the new hospital only having very limited suctioning facilities. Consequently the suctioning torture was cut down to just one or two times a day. This suited me fine, but it does make one wonder if hospital doctors really know what they're doing all the time.
When my sitting balance had improved somewhat from its initial non-existence Physio would wheel me to the physiotherapy department to have me stand with the aid of a tilt table. I'd lie on the table and be strapped to it around the chest, hips, and knees, before the tabletop was tilted through ninety degrees until I was standing vertically.
I'd stand like this for up to a half-hour to place my body weight on my legs, but sometimes I wouldn't make the half-hour. A couple of times the change in angle made me go white, cold, and clammy, so Physio would lie me down before I passed out. On more than one occasion I coughed so violently that I broke the aging leather straps. Each time she was close enough to catch me as I fell floorwards, but after the third time I refused to ever go on the tilt table again.
She'd had a couple of videos shot of me when she first had me up and sitting on the side of my bed and six weeks later in the physio department. When I was about to leave PHH a third video was shot. Given that there was more than a fair chance that I'd always be a quad, my improvement from video to video to video was very significant. From near-total immobility I'd gone on until by the last video I can be seen very slowly straightening my left arm and fingers, moving my upper body back and forth reasonably freely as I balanced my sitting body unaided, and standing while she maintained my balance.
The last week at PHH the engineering department made me an `automatic environment controller'. Basically, it's a moulded hand splint with a switch built in to it and a selector box. The switch is sensitive enough to be operated with my minuscule thumb movement. By pressing the switch a certain number of times I can turn on my fan, TV, or tape player - more importantly, it can also ring the nurse call buzzer when I need to pee.
Even though I've got bladder control I had to wear incontinence gear every night I before the controller, because I couldn't buzz if I needed a pee. This meant wearing a condom with a plastic tube at the end that led to a plastic urine bag. At last I could ring for a nurse and spell out my most common phase - bottle, please. I’d never again had to wear that hated condom. It may seem like good gear having eighteen and nineteen year old girls roll on a condom for you every night, but when the cold hard reason is just so you can pee during the night the attraction fades quickly.
July 30, 1984 - PHH, Melbourne
An old Hungarian guy was shipped out of here yesterday. I never could remember his name. He wasn't a quad or a para or anything, but he couldn't move very much just the same. You see they used to tie the poor bastard down. He was a bit of a handful, I admit, but tying him down? He should've been down in the psych ward - sure, he would have been locked in down there, but at least he wouldn't have been tied down.
He came in clear as bell for a straightforward head op, but ever since it he's been gaga. I guess he was one of their statistical failures. They told his wife he'd stay that way and he'd have to go into a nursing home for permanent care. The Neuro who did the op probably couldn’t bring himself to cash the cheque - surgeons are like that.
‘We're sorry we have to keep him in this unsatisfactory environment, Mrs Thingo. Virtually any environment would be better for him than this hospital ward. We're doing everything we can to locate somewhere more suitable, but there just isn't anywhere available. It could be weeks or more.’
Thingo became a bit of a wanderer. The nurses reckoned he'd become a proper nuisance, because they had to get him back from all over the hospital. They took to strapping him into a lounge chair during the day and they thought they had him beat, but they forgot Wanderlust. It's driven mankind since the beginning of time.
Old Thingo would jump the lounge chair again and again - and again and again and - and again and again and ever so laboriously again. He'd inch his way across the room to the white enamel hand basin and once there he'd wriggle his arms forward in their bonds - patiently wriggling them fractionally forward until at last he could grip the basin's edge. Then he'd puuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuull himself to his feet.
That was the last we'd see of him until he was recaptured. He'd be staggering off to who-knows-where with the big chair strapped to his backside and with our congratulations in his ears. I'm getting to be an expert on captivity, so my silent voice was the loudest. (Thingo also regularly set the elderly female patients' pulses' racing by wandering though the ward clad only in some cleaner's white gumboots.)
He used to wander at night sometimes, too. Not every night - maybe one night out of three, one out of four, but once he started he wouldn't stop. They took to tying the old bugger down in his bed when they brought back. You see on TV when they restrain a patient they whip on padded straps already attached to the bedrails. Not this lot. There's no straps here. They just rat around for bandages with all of them saying I'm sure they were here a few months ago Eventually someone finds some old strips of something and then they tie their victim's wrists to the bedrails. Sheep shank? Clothes hitch? Fisherman's bend? Who gives a stuff? A Granny knot will do, just tie the old bastard.
They should've given a stuff when they were tying him down a few nights ago, but they had business elsewhere. I lay here and listened to him for nearly an hour. I could hear his quiet grunting efforts as he pulled and tugged and wriggled with his bound wrists until his fingers reached the knots - the who-gives-a-stuff knots. He beat the first one at about two o’clock and the other fell fast to his freed hand after that.
He didn't know what to do with his freedom, but wanderlust was stirring his soul. It was pushing him to his feet out of bed, but once there indecision pushed him back. Out, think a while, back in, think a while. Out, think a while, back in, think a while. Out again. Look, over there on that cabinet - cigarettes and matches.
The guy sleeping there just can't do without a puff, so they let him smoke on the balcony a bit. Thingo doesn't smoke, but he's a demon for matches. He loves them more than ghoulish heads - he used to play with them every chance he got, which wasn't often, but the bin caught fire and he was barred.
He made a beeline for the matches, but once he'd grabbed them he was stumped. He couldn't think what to do with them. No-one really knows what he thought to do next, because he'd forgotten about it when they asked, but my theory is a barbecue. I reckon he stood there till he thought Barbecue, then I reckon he went looking for the backyard.
He didn't find it, but he did find the next best thing. He found an empty room down the hall towards the lift. It'd just been done up with new fittings and new paint and new beds and stuff, but there was no bedding on the mattresses yet. He put a match to the new mattresses; he put a match to the new curtains around the beds; he put a match to the new curtains on the windows; he put a match to the oxygen outlets on the newly painted walls; and then he came back to bed.
An old lady in the room opposite woke to the oxygen `whoosh' and started yelling her lungs out for help. Unfortunately she was, is, the ward screamer. She screams at the drop of a hat just for the attention, so the nurses know not to rush to her side. It's like as not she just wants her radio turned up or her flowers moved two centimetres to the left.
She's old, frail, sick and thinks her time's close, (which it probably is), so even her screams are sickly and weak - moans and whimpers, really. Except for the occasional piercing scream they're not all that loud, but on and on forever. The night of the fire the nurses took notice of her eventually, more to shut her up than anything, and then all hell broke loose!
Isn't incentive a wonderful thing? After telling Thingo's wife it'd take forever to get him a place they found somewhere that'd take him just hours after the firemen left. I guess some unsuspecting nursing home will be getting the barbecue treatment any time now.
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April 1976, Ismir, Turkey.
Yesterday morning I came to Turkey on a little fishing boat from Chios to Kusadasi. Two hundred and fifty drachma like Georges said. That’s just over six dollars Australian or around four dollars American, the same amount as the weekly rent for my tiny cottage in Nenita. I love this cheap living, but I bet prices in Greece and right across Europe will be through the roof in ten or twenty years. Why, you ask? I suppose I could refer to the speculated future trends in global fiscal policy or to the ever increasing disposable incomes of people worldwide or some such thing, or I could simply say that all good things must come to an end. I like that last reason best.
After the formalities that always go with entering a new country I walked to nearby Ephesus, an under-developed attraction. It’s a partly excavated city from the time of ancient Greece. I’m sure I read in my Lonely Planet travel book it’s still being excavated, but I didn’t see any sign of that.. I was there most of the day, just wandering around or sitting in the sun typing. I only saw two other people, a Turkish couple. They said hello, I think, and asked me for directions to somewhere on the site. In Turkish. I couldn’t help them.
Late in the day I realized I had missed the last bus from Kusadasi to the train station at Izmir. I’d have to look for somewhere to stay back in Kusadasi.
‘Ahh, stuff that. I’ll just sleep here amongst the ruins. There’s no-one here now to stop me.’
I didn’t stay there, though. I decided it’d be more pleasant out of all that stone and retrieved my pack from where I’d hidden it. I walked just a hundred metres out into the grassy plain that extends from Ephesus before I came upon a dip, a tiny gully out of the light breeze. There was a strange stone building nestled it the dip. It was, ummm - how to describe it? Two stone walls less than two metres apart and not a metre high; a slightly arched stone roof so you could sit up on the dirt floor inside; both ends open. It was dry and cosy, not protruding up into the breezy plain. But it did pong just a bit goaty.
‘This’ll do me.’
That morning, as I walked from the Nenita bus to the Chios waterfront, I saw some camping gear in a shop window. I bought a little gas stove and a little frying pan and a little billy and two sets of cutlery. And two plastic plates and mugs. Why two of each? Because they cost just a few drachma each. Because all up they weighed nothing. But most of all because it’s best to be prepared when you’re travelling. You never know what’s around the next corner. Or who.
The gas stove is just an aerosol can of gas with clip-on feet for stability and a clip-on stove ring. I bought some food and olive oil in the little grocery next door. The bent and wrinkled ninety-eight-year-old grocery woman saw me stowing the bread and tomatoes and cucumber and feta and olives in my pack, and trying to figure how to safely stow the half dozen eggs in their paper bag. She hobbled out into the house section of the dingy little shop and was holding an egg carton when she came back a few moments later. I could tell from her bearing or her glowing face or something that this was out of the ordinary. She was doing a special favour for me, the foreign backpacker she had never seen before. She broke the carton in half, handing me half for my eggs. As I expected it was cold from the fridge. I’d bought eggs in Nenita and here in Chios before this, and in Mitilini on Lesvos too. They aren’t sold in cartons on the Greek islands. I don’t think I’ll see any in Turkey either. You never get blasé about it, but little kindnesses like that seem entwined in the Greek ethos.
I bought a small bottle of olive oil there, too. I grew to love olive oil in Nenita. I ate in the cafenion most nights. Usually eggs swimming in olive oil with heaps of Greek salad swimming in olive oil or fresh-that-day locally-caught fish with heaps of Greek salad swimming in olive oil. Lemon to squeeze on the eggs and the fish and lots of bread to soak up the olive oil. Every now and then the cafenion owner’s wife would tell me in veeeeeeeeery broken English that I was lacking pasta in my diet. She would serve me lasagna or spaghetti instead of whatever I asked for. Of course these would come with heaps of Greek salad swimming in olive oil, and the bread. She enjoyed mothering me. I never had the heart to tell her that a couple of times a week in my little cottage I cooked simple pasta meals with heaps of Greek salad swimming in olive oil to eat at my typewriter.
Being very suggestible. I used to follow Georges and drink a small glass of olive oil with breakfast every day. Believe me, constipation wasn’t an option for me in Nenita.
God, I get sidetracked. I was writing about Ephesus. The dirt floor of the stone thing was speckled with old goat droppings dry and hard. I scraped them all outside and used my new stove to cook what I think is going to be my standard on-the-move evening meal. The ingredients don’t go off too quickly and they’re simple to make into a simple meal that I like - eggs swimming in olive oil with my simple Greek salad swimming in olive oil. Lemon to squeeze on the eggs and bread to soak up the olive oil. And black Nescafe coffee after.
I had finished eating and had nearly killed my coffee when a teenage Turk looked into the stone thing. He smiled broadly and rattled off something in Turkish. At my blank look he tried English. Now his English was very basic and heavily accented, but it was a hundred times better than my Turkish. He introduced himself. He stammered that he was a - a - shepherd of goats. He asked where I come from and he welcomed me to Turkey, to Ephesus and finally to his stone thing. Oops. I invited him in for a cup of Westerners’ coffee.
It wasn’t his stone thing, actually. He said later on that the Christian Saint Paul had slept there. I don’t know much about religion, but somewhere in my life someone must have told me a little bit about Paul. God knows why. Maybe it was while I was president of the Student Christian Movement at Mitcham high school. I was a good president, even though I didn’t believe in God. What was an atheist doing in charge of the SCM? It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Paul was born here in southern Turkey. He was called Saul in those days. His Jewish family had Roman citizenship. As a young man he was known far and wide for persecuting Christians. One day on the road to Damascus he had a vision of Jesus asking him something like ‘Saul, why don’t you like me?’ He converted after that and got a new name for his trouble. He became one of early Christianity’s main apostles. He journeyed far and wide around the Mediterranean for the next ten years, apostelling. He only just avoided crucifixion a couple of times by dint of being a Roman citizen, because under Roman law citizens couldn’t be crucified. The great fire of Rome was the cause of his demise. He and Peter were blamed for it. Peter, thrice deny-er of Christ Peter the Rock Peter. He was crucified upside-down and Paul was beheaded. But before that time he was nearly four years in Ephesus, establishing the Church very successfully. I find it incredulous that he would dosh down in a goaty stone thing outside the city, or if he did why the Church hasn’t turned it into a shrine. However, who am I to doubt a Muslim shepherd boy when it comes to Christian history?
I slept in St Paul’s stone thing last night. So did Shepherd Boy. I didn’t have any visions or revelations or near-God experiences of any sort. Nor did Shepherd Boy. He was up at the crack of dawn and off with his goats. Me, I’m not that keen. I surfaced at a respectable hour and walked back to Kusadasi for breakfast before taking the local bus to Izmir.
Izmir’s a fairly big city. I read in Lonely Planet it’s two or three million people. I can’t remember which, but it’s big. Dad worked for the Railways when I was growing up. We moved around a bit. We left my birthplace, Daylesford, to go to Neerim South for a year, then Yarck for three years, Boort for a year, then the city for my last two years of schooling. Back then Daylesford’s population was only about two thousand, Boort a thousand, Neerim South four hundred and Yarck just one hundred and seventeen before old Mr Wright died. After those country places just about any decent-sized town seems big to me.
I’m nearly three hours into a six-hour night train from Izmir to Istanbul, arriving at about eleven tonight – or Constantinople to use its old name like Georges did in Nenita. The train was packed with drably-dressed dour Turks when we left Izmir; middle-aged men and women, with a sprinkling of younger women just as drably-dressed and dour. I didn’t see any smiles. Drab and dour are they, Danny? If you’d just slaved your guts out all day in some factory for a pittance for the three thousand one hundred and eighty fourth day of your working life, with another nine thousand days like this ahead of you, wouldn’t you be drab and dour too? I bet it’s a different kettle of fish once these people are home with their families - freshened up, fed and rested.
After the train cleared the city it stopped often, ever-thinning the homeward-bound workers. Ninety slow minutes like that until the last of them got off. I’m alone in the carriage now, except for the elderly gentleman reading a book halfway down the carriage. He’s dressed in a suit. It’s not new, not nearly new. He looks average. Could be a travelling Turk, but I don’t think so. I reckon he’s a lonely foreigner. Like me, except I’m not lonely. Just alone.
I read on after everyone got off the train, but eventually I stirred myself into action. I set up my little gas burner at my feet on the bare wooden floor and had my eggs cooking while I got the bread and salad ready. I’ve got a couple more eggs going now, but less oil. I’m making up a meal for the old guy. I’m going easy on the oil in the salad, too. I’m going to walk down there and hand him his plate without any preamble. If a stranger offered me something to eat I’d say No, thank you without even thinking about it. I’d say No thanks, they’d say Go on, it’s OK, I’d say I’m really not hungry, they’d say Are you sure?, I’d say OK then and take it, but by then we would both feel awkward, embarrassed. I’m far from alone in acting like that. By just thrusting the food on the old guy we’ll be able to skip all that. But what if he really isn’t hungry? - Nah I’ll put the billy of water on for coffee then I’ll take this to him.
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Much of my posts is cut-and-pastes from the unpublished autobiography I wrote more than a dozen years ago. I try to end each Cut at a logical place, but I fear I'm putting too much reading into each post. Please click on Write Comments below this paragraph and tell me if its too much.