I'm lying on my back in my bed, bored out of my brain. It's just gone six thirty and I've been awake for an hour already. More than that, actually. I hardly ever get tired enough to sleep right through till the morning carer gets here, because all I do all day is sit around not moving a muscle - nearly.
Eventually the carer arrives and gets me up and into my wheelchair and dressed, then I drive into the bathroom. She stands me from my wheelchair and sits me on the toilet, then she leaves me to do my stuff. Three or four minutes later I hit the button on the wall with my head to buzz her that I'm done. She comes in and pulls me forward to wipe my bum, but the whole seat comes loose and slides forward.
She's got hold of me securely, so there's no drama. She merely pushes me backwards and the seat slides back. It slid so far forward before that my penis was pushed over the lip of the toilet bowl to dangle down in front of it. That's OK, but when she pushes me back the plastic seat comes thundering back at about three hundred kilometres an hour and jams my penis hard up against the bowl.
God, it feels like its being cut in two and suddenly I'm talking. Screaming and yelling actually, but all that's coming out are loud and vigorous groans. She's heard me doing this before when I've been sliding out of my chair or starting to fall out over the side of it and at those times it's motivated by fear and panic. She thinks I'm panicing now about falling off the toilet, so she holds me firm and tells me “”I’ve got you, Danny. You’re OK. Just calm down.”
I'm yelling 'For Christ's sake stand me up!' and indicating 'Up, up!' with my head, because it hurts like hell, but the more I carry on the more she waits for me to stop panicing about falling. I realize through the pain I won't get anywhere while she's on the wrong track, so I surpress my agonised yells and jab my finger at my crotch, nodding at it too. She twigs the problem and eases the seat forward. The poor thing is red and bruised four centimetres from the end where it was jammed.
Not much movement below the neck? I can live with that. No voice? No problem. But four precious centimetres gone? Would anything be left??
I see clear blue skies out the window behind my computer. A warm spring afternoon. It's a great day to be alive. But then, aren't they all. (Even on the coldest, wettest, most miserable day in deep winter when I'm feeling dull and cold to the bone I wouldn't be dead for quids.)
It's a warm spring afternoon at present, but give it another hour and it'll be starting to cool down. Even mild coolness makes the few working muscles in my one vaguely-mobile arm tighten. Nowadays I have God's own trouble reaching the control stick to drive my wheelchair at the best of times, so a tightened arm is something I try to avoid. Best I stop writing and take my dog Bruno for his afternoon walk right now.
I'm back at the computer again, with Bruno lying on the floor at my side. I've got a lead tied to my chair and Bruno is attached all day, except for lunchtime. He's desperate to be put on at the end of the carers' shifts. If ever I leave him out the back during the day he lies at the door and every now and then he whines like buggery. I crack and open the door after a while. He races in and lies down beside me for the rest of the morning or afternoon just as if he was on the lead.
My front and back doors and the security screen doors are equiped with electronic door openers that I can operate through my wheelchair controls.
Daylight saving started last weekend. I always start morning shifts an hour earlier from that time and push my dinner shifts back an hour, which gives me an extra two hours during the day in summer. My typing speed is getting slower each year in line with the gradual deterioration of my quad body. This painfully slow typing means it takes almost to lunchtime just to write the carers' notes of things I need done that day and to answer emails and the odd thing, so the extra time that comes with daylight savings is a godsend.
But even it's not enough. Ellydd Gate, the first book of my trilogy, was due back from the editor last Saturday, but apparently its still a couple of days away. When I get it I'll have to go through it line by line, making amendments and doing the seven hundred and thirty ninth final check before sending it to the online publisher. I can't see where I'm going to find the time to type my blog ramblings then, but I guess I will.
Here's an example of a carer's note ...
'Good evening Ruth,
Please load the Ezykeys CD into the computer.
More printer paper please.
Exercises please. It's important I increase these stretches for my left arm as it's getting very hard or me to reach the wheelchair controls.
Please hang the washing out.
Please feed the dog.
Please steam vegies. Fry fish and make cheese sauce.
More exercises please.'
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
April 2, 1984 - PHH, Melbourne Nurse's piling all my stuff on my bed, and here's Rainbow in for the afternoon. They hardly ever pull the covers up over my face any more, so I can see everything nearly all the time. Right now I can see the pile growing down near my feet - clothes, shoes, cassette player, tapes and all the Get Well cards from the rellies.
Rainbow always comes. At least I think she does. I remember she told me she does and she said she talks to me even if she isn't sure I'm here - what with the morphine and all the drugs. I'm off the morphine drip now, but its effect still kicks in from time to time, she tells me.
It's good now though, because I can remember some of Before right back to when Innocent was here - of course, that might've been just yesterday or it might've been months ago. I'm still not sure about those things - I can't remember -. But I do remember Innocent saying Rainbow came every day, even back then.
A male nurse just came in to get me, but Nurse is making him wait while she tells me about the ward I'm going to. She says it's the neurology ward and its got six rooms all the same - three for men and three for women, but one's being fixed up. Neuro gets head injuries like from car accidents and diving accidents and then there are strokes like me.
The male nurse wheels me to Neuro with Rainbow beside me. I remember once Nurse said some things might seem weird because the morphine they've been giving me makes me hallucinate, but it's never seemed that way to me. It's awful the way they try to kill me at night, and lots of things happen I don't know why, but nothing's struck me as weird.
Seeing the Neurology ward made me think about that - it made me think ‘Maybe this's what Nurse meant’, because at first glance it was weird. But just for a second, then it was just - I dunno - a bit different maybe, but not weird. It just is.
The room isn't all that big, but it's really crowded. There must be about a dozen bunk beds around the walls, all two and three bunks high with patients in them - sitting, lying, reading, sleeping, talking, but mainly talking, and mainly talking low. Some of them are wearing hospital gowns and some of them are wearing street clothes and there are lots of busy nurses everywhere. I've never seen a ward like it. It's not weird, though.
I'm not in a bunk. I've been transferred from the stretcher to an ordinary hospital bed.
It's quiet now and the bunks have all gone. Now there are just five men in beds like mine and they're all eating dinner. The girl with the food trolley didn't leave me anything and I thought ‘She's forgotten me, but one of the nurses will see I'm not eating’.
They didn't, though, and that made me know something I've never thought about before now - I never eat anything. I can't remember them ever giving me food, but I know this time it's not just me not remembering. Somehow I know I don't eat, just like I know I don't talk. They don't expect me to eat, just like they never expect an answer from me. They know I can't speak and they know I can't eat, and I know it too now. Up till now I knew I didn't speak, but it just now came to me I can't speak, and I think that came because it hit me that I can't eat. Why didn't they tell me?
Let's think about this for a minute - I reckon when I was in ICU Nurse and Rainbow probably told me everything about everything and I just can't remember them doing it. I know I had a stroke while we were staying at Mum's place for the night. I know I can't talk, I know they did a trache-thingy to me in ICU and I know I can't eat or drink. Now that I've concentrated on remembering all those things I can see someone must've told me when I wasn't here. I reckon most of it came from Rainbow. She tells me everything about everything in here and stuff from home - things about Gemma and Bedou and stuff.
She brings them in sometimes and she puts them on my bed. After Bedou has pulled my beard and settled down Gemma says ‘When are you coming home, Daddy?’ and then I cry.
Something else I know - this'll sound dumb, but I reckon that stuff I said about them pulling the covers up over my face all the time in ICU? I reckon it wasn't like that. That's what I thought they were doing, but it must've been me. I know it was me. A lot of the time I was lying there with my eyes wide open and I'd be hearing things, but I couldn't see anything. It wasn't blackness though, and it wasn't white. It was just being, I suppose, and then I'd drop right back into nothing for a while. Rainbow probably told me how I was drifting in and out and I just know the rest. I wonder when I realized it? I can't remember -
I remember the Birds though. That's strange - I don't remember them like in remembering what they looked like. I don't remember ever actually seeing them, but somehow I know they were a mask and tubes or something and they made me breathe something for my throat or lungs or something. Nurse must've told me, or Rainbow, because I'm certain they weren't a dream. I think they weren't, anyway...
May 2, 1967 - Mt Goldsworthy, Western Australia
I’m working at Mt Goldworthy, near Port Hedland in the Pilbara. It’s an open-cut mine, the inside of a hill, a hill of iron-ore, red iron-ore. They call it a mountain up here. I'm the lowly battery attendant. Its not hard work, in fact it's a bludge most of the time. My vehicle's the mine's only Moke. They've got plenty of huge machinery - Haulpaks and scrapers, buckets and dozers, locomotives and mile-long trains, and they've got tray trucks and Landrovers, cars and trucks and God knows what else, but there's just this one tiny Mini Moke. I zap around the mine during the day, a battery or two and a few tools and water and stuff in the back, and I check, repair and replace batteries, and I feel so absurdly tiny. Everything else is so big - big, bigger, and huge.
I'm only the battery attendant, but I wouldn't change my job for anything. I get to zap around, as I just said, in this great little Moke all day; I have very little to do; and I'm practically my own boss.
When I was being employed I admitted that I didn't have an endorsed license for trucks and heavy machinery and stuff. I didn't have a license at all, thanks to the courts back home, but I saw no reason to tell them that. My license in Victoria’s still suspended, but when I did the truck driving test here the cops issued me one without even checking.
I didn't have a license, but now I've got one endorsed for all sort of trucks and heavy machinery, and all because of call outs. Most of the bosses only do dayshift, so the night-shift guys call me out of my bed to fix a battery and while I’m up they teach me to drive anything I want. As far as base salaries go mine isn’t the best, but three or four nights a week I'm called out to get something or other started and each call out is worth three hours extra pay. I'm called out even more than that when my roommate's on Nights, because he and his mates put in bogus calls for me.
Some nights like tonight I park my Moke at the top of the mine, just to watch the truly wondrous scene down below. (It's just gone three in the morning, so it's the third now, May the third, my birthday. My 21st birthday. What a great place to spend your twenty first. Yeah, sure, Danny.)
From up here everything looks small down there in the mine. Everything looks small and reasonable, but it's not like that by a long shot. Hundred tonne Haulpaks loaded with another hundred tonnes of ore labour up a zigzag road level by level to the top of the mine. Once there they barrel along a wide flat road to the crusher - the dust-hidden ore crusher hidden with red iron-ore dust. Haulpak drivers throw caution to the wind on this road, frantic as they are in their attempts to shift the most ore. Heaven help any mere mortal in their path.
The road has a steep slope down from its edge, a slope of about fifty degrees, and it drops from one level of the zigzag to the next to get down to where the ore is. At the top it runs around the top of the mine to get to the crusher. A grader keeps it flat, smooth and wide - wide enough for two hurtling Haulpaks to pass each other safely.
It's not really flat. There's a gradual dip near one end, but loaded Haulpaks can still reach about one hundred km/h on it. I know one hundred's not an earth-shattering speed, but if a Haulpak loaded with its hundred tonnes of ore hit a brick house at a hundred it'd probably still be doing eighty five out the other side.
I'm still parked at the top of the mine watching the scene down below. I better get back to my bed soon, because I've got to start work in about four hours. Down there in the mine there are a few electric lights dimmed by reddish iron-ore dust and surrounded by unfathomable blackness. It's like the whole world's contracted to the one spooky red-pink glow. In that hazy glow I can make out men the size of ants and monolithic earth-moving machines - but somehow the confining glow and the haziness make everything seem peaceful. It's all roaring, moving activity and here am I saying it's peaceful! Restful, maybe - to the remote observer like me, that is.
Times like this when I get that really peaceful feeling about this place I wish something would happen to break the peace, to liven things up briefly. I mean, look at the life I lead - work six days a week, a run in the scrub and the heat most Sundays to stay a bit fit, and the odd run after work, a beer or two every other day and pissed out of my mind Saturday nights. It's not a very exciting life, just a way to make big money fast.
Ah, well - back to bed. There's a Haulpak nearly out of the mine. I'll just wait till it's gone past - I'm a bit wary of those big buggers, especially at night. The weather's beautiful in the north-west most of the time - clear, blue, sunny, stinking hot days, but it's that good dry heat. It hasn't even looked like rain in my five months here so I never have the canvas hood on the Moke up. That means its bonnet/motor cover is its highest part, except for the small windscreen, and the bonnet's just over half a metre off the ground. Half a metre, with my head and shoulders above that, but the drivers of those roaring ore-carrying monsters are about five metres up. Their massive wheels are three times as high as the Moke, nearly as wide as it is, and each one weighs twice as much. The drivers could easily not see me and that'd be curtains for me. Can you blame me for being a bit wary?
There goes that monster past me, climbing through its umpteen gears to top speed, but still I look hard in both directions first. I've nearly been run over by a Haulpak before, and all because I didn't look both ways and more, like when we were kids. All clear? I'm off, home to bed, and- Christ! A frigging great Goliath's erupting out of that dip in the road! God Almighty!
I crash my foot down hard on the accelerator. Hard? I just about smash it through the floor. Mokes aren't all that great from a standing start, but I've got the motor straining its guts like never before. This definitely isn't fair - a tiny vehicle with a nine hundred and eighty seven cubic centimetre motor trying to get away from an enormous monster with an engine about seventeen thousand times as big, and Monster's flying up behind me at the speed of sound!
Nine hundred and eighty seven cc? See that litre milk carton on your kitchen table? Well, a litre is a thousand cc, so I'm trying to escape death and I haven't even got a litre of milk under the bonnet.
Seven km/h - eight - nine - ten -
Monster's looming larger and larger in the mirror. If ever I'm going to let prayer feature in my life now is the time.
Thirteen - fourteen - fifteen - sixteen -
Terrified white knuckles tight on the steering wheel, heart crashing in my ears and Monster's blaring air-horns reverberating in my head.
Seventeen - eighteen -
Why's that mongrel driver doing this to me? Why doesn't he just pull up? He can't just pull up, that's why. No brakes on earth could make a fully laden Haulpak stop suddenly from that speed.
There's no time for prayer. It looks very much like I won't get to spend eternity playing a harp -
Twenty one -
I wrench the wheel violently, slewing over the edge of the road, with Monster like an express train missing me by a hair's breadth. I aim the Moke directly down the steep drop to prevent it rolling over and I stand on the brakes with all my weight.
Twenty one - twenty - fifteen -
Stop, you little bastard -
Eleven - seven -
It slithers to a stop a fraction before its bumper bar gouges the zigzag road on the level below. I'm shaking uncontrollably, my heart crashing against my rib cage. I'm deathly pale, but I feel so - so - so - so alive!