Pyrmont Markets (Last day in April)

PYRMONT MARKETS

It was a glorious day when spring had not yet surrendered to summer, and I was making a rare trip to the Growers’ Markets at Pyrmont Park. The ferry chugged across the harbour, shredding curtains of mist that trailed listlessly into the atmosphere, exposing cobalt patches of sky.

Impossible to miss the markets when the ferry docked! The park was submerged under a canopy of umbrellas. Although I had caught the earliest ferry, it was evident that I was not early, and the prospect of lingering over a leisurely breakfast soon dissipated in the thronging crowds.

Stalls bordered the waters edge and the immediate boundaries of the park. Some encroached on the centre, and others formed an endless line on the far side. Everywhere crowds bustled and jostled their way to the counters to look, to touch, to taste, to carry off produce in triumph.

There were bread stalls with myriads of varieties of freshly baked organic loaves. Mouth-watering fruit loaves, their fresh dough crumpled with fruit and dimpled with whole almonds, tumbled seductively against robust, gluten- free sourdoughs. The pale, diffused gold of pumpkin loaves was a delicate contrast to hearty Aussie dampers.

Home baked, culinary creations festooned the cake stalls. The ginger cake was clearly a masterpiece, its unique flavour attributable we were assured, to a spicy secret harbouring three different types of ginger. Australian Bush Christmas cakes, heavy with fruit and spice and decorated with opulent glace flora, were nostalgic reminders of an era when the icing on the cake was the artistic signature of the dedicated, homespun expert.

Wandering from stall to stall, I salivated over swollen, plump knobs of marinated baby figs luxuriating in rich, dark liquid. Jars of jam, lids removed to flaunt their decadence, flagrantly touted for business from stall counters. Bunches of riotous colours paraded along the edges of flower stalls, and the smell of fresh blossoms permeated the air, throwing out a sensory challenge to the irresistible reminders of brewed coffee.

The creamy textures of butters, cheeses, yoghurts and their marinated medleys enticed the wayward wanderer to indulge in furtive flirtations with the lurking dangers of cholesterol. Fruit and vegetable stalls, chaotic displays of fresh, organic produce, attracted relentless crowds. Moisture glistened on the greens, and the wild rocket conjured up visions of vigorous salads bursting with reckless energy. Bunches of miniature beetroot promised colourful embellishments to mundane meals.

The crowds surged around. Dog walkers, stoically claiming their right to space, presided with benevolent tolerance over territorial canine clashes, which threatened to disrupt this spectacular event of organic harmony. Young parents manoeuvred deluxe model pushers with unwavering purpose, scattering careless loiterers from their path. Venturing back to the stalls, I joined a short coffee queue, and performed a precarious balancing act with the morning paper, a shopping bag and a takeaway coffee.

Having resolved on a ‘look, but don’t buy’ day, I limited my purchases, but was already planning for future indulgences, such as the wild hibiscus flowers to drop into glasses of champagne. We called these rosellas when I was growing up, and rosella jam was a common, everyday jam, stockpiled plentifully at every fete and street stall. But now, no longer the Cinderellas crushed for jam and boiled with sugar, the whole, red, transparent flowers are packed in jars of syrup, waiting to burst into bloom with the kiss of champagne in a wine glass.

I strolled back to the wharf. The bright sunlight cavorted on the water, glinting and shimmering like quivering diamond facets. Exotic images and aromas pursued my senses as the ferry chugged back across the bay. Growers’ markets are a modern renaissance, a luscious display of human endeavour and creativity.

Senses sated and spirit nourished, I felt the balmy tranquillity of the morning seep through me, lifting me above the jangles of a world that is never quite right, and harmonising discord into a celebration of life’s simplicity.

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THE WEDNESDAY GROUP

Two days a week attending the initial rehabilitation program had disrupted my life. Instead of settling into a predictable rhythm, I felt disjointed and unable to achieve some harmonious flow to my weeks. To provide some distraction from this disrupting impact I enrolled in evening courses in singing, writing and philosophy, hoping to establish a pattern where the focus would not be on my heart attack.

 

After completing the introductory rehabilitation sessions, I graduated to the Wednesday group. Although I knew a few faces, I felt quite disconnected. The group is huge, a blend of stereotypical academic and genteel respectability, and inner city battlers. But I got the impression that for some participants, it is more a social occasion than an exercise session. While we waited for the staff to arrive, the conversation ranged around topics from local politics to football.

 

‘I go for two teams every weekend,’ an inner city loyalist boasted, ‘Balmain, and whoever plays against Manly.’

 

I forbore to mention that my kids and grandchildren all barracked for Easts, who’d maintained a steady losing streak that season. Although, to insure himself against any disappointments on Grand Final Day, my eight-year-old grandson confided that he was now going for six teams, Balmain being high in the optimistic stakes.

 

The gymnasium doors finally opened and we all forged in. I felt lost in chaos, but as the morning progressed, began to understand how the program worked. The Rivkin look-a-like was there, as was the film scriptwriter. Both are pleased with their progress, and have made positive adjustments to their lives post-heart incident.

 

A university student on placement was to be assessed on a presentation that day, a contributing factor, one of the staff confided, to the chaos, assuring us that it wasn’t usually like this. Another student conducted the circuit under the supervision of a humourless young woman, who insisted on a full two minutes for each activity. It soon became obvious that this time far exceeded the norm, and the responses ranged from moans and complaints to open revolt and anarchy. Little sympathy was shown for the protestors, who were brusquely exhorted to work harder.

 

The next few weeks will be another period of adjustment as I adapt to the new program and its dynamics. But the place was so crowded. The coordinator agreed, and said there would be a cull in the immediate future.

 

Shortly after I commenced the Wednesday group I took a brief holiday and on my return, found that there had indeed been a cull. With much-reduced numbers the crowded chaos had been streamlined into a smaller, more manageable group, and tentative attempts at socialisation were not so daunting.

 

Most of us arrived well before the staff, who were often delayed on the wards. Queued up this day, waiting for the doors to open, I was caught in the crossfire of conversation and complaints about the young woman who’d insisted on a more rigorous approach to the circuit exercises.

 

‘And if we get that ethnic girl today, I’m going to tell her that I know how hard I can exercise. She’s not going to tell me how hard I should be working. I know what I can do,’ one elderly woman was holding forth to the group.

 

Giving every appearance of having lived through tough times, she had paid strict attention to her grooming. Her hair was cut short, accentuating, rather than softening, a squarish face, and spiked up in a harsh bid to distract from her stocky, middle-aged stature. Today she was wearing a carefully chosen ensemble, a white T-shirt, with decorative red loops, to team with red, cotton capri pants. Protruding from the pants, her bare calves and ankles dragged the eye down to matching red and white joggers on her feet. On a cold August day, was this an optimistic prediction of an early spring? Or a defiant rebuttal of the resolute waning of bygone springs?

 

‘You weren’t here before,’ another woman turned to me. ‘We used to have such fun. You could have a joke and talk,’ she grieved. This is the raffle lady, who maintains a position of benevolent importance.

 

‘Oh,’ I said, trying to inject a degree of tolerance into the dynamics, ‘we get it for nothing, so I’m happy to come along and do whatever.’

 

‘Ya not gettin’ it f’nuthin,’ grated the middle-aged man beside me, a short, stocky figure, sporting the well-padded emblem of the inner city, working-class battler. ‘Y’ve bin payin’ ya Medicare levy f’years.’

 

The flat, definitive monotone signalled an end to the conversation.

 

Always desperately in need of new equipment, the gymnasium seems to be a low priority in the hospital’s budget, and raffles are run to raise funds. The prizes are reminiscent of the Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day gifts in school stalls, and indeed, may very well be the recycled offerings of grandchildren. A tempting range of goodies, including cakes of soap, hand knitted knickknacks, soft toys, biscuits, chocolates and little ornaments, is meant to be the irresistible inducement to purchasing tickets. I once won a cake of soap in a hand-knitted container that smelt so strongly of naphthalene, I almost had an asthma attack.

 

This year the Father’s Day raffle had an impressive line-up of prizes. There was a bottle of port, gift boxed with a glass, and a small, wrought iron wine rack, one of those ubiquitous wares in the myriads of gift shops that have proliferated. Or perhaps it was the discarded prize of another raffle, or a bowls competition?

 

Whatever, raffle drawing assumed all the trappings of a special occasion, with the raffle lady decked out in carefully creased slacks, and a white cotton top resplendent with glittering purple swirls. Quite clearly the emphasis for her today was to be on a more important function than the mundane activities designed to rehabilitate one from a heart incident.

 

Many tasks seemed to assume greater importance than those aligned with health maintenance, and served to exonerate the organisers from participating in the physical exercises. More tickets had to be sold to those who had missed out in the previous weeks. Then the tickets had to be folded and placed in a container.

 

Finally, the moment of excitement arrived, when various volunteers were withdrawn from the circuit to draw the lucky tickets, to the accompaniment of distracted applause from staff as they tried to maintain the training schedule. And by the time the raffle lady had fussed and tidied up, put everything back in order, and smoothed down her neatly creased slacks, the program was nearing the time limit. Rehabilitation had undergone a re-interpretation.

 

The Wednesday group is like a social event, although another cull sent the raffle lady and other sundry participants on their way. Staff now organise the raffles. Unlike the ‘we used to have such fun’ mentality of turning up and doing little, for most of us rehabilitation and working co-operatively with our bodies and the therapists is the main objective of attending the Wednesday group.

 

But we do have fun in the way that people who feel at ease with one another can interact, laughing at ourselves, and sharing our fears and setbacks. Newcomers come on board, and some drop off after a short while, while others attend spasmodically.

 

We occasionally resort to minor sabotage, as when the young male therapist inflicts his loud doof-doof CDs on us. A collective objection prevails to the ramping up of our action to his pace. The sound is particularly jarring to the professor of mediaeval music in our group, and it is not unknown for the offending CDs to have been temporarily mislaid, until the session is over.

 

A regular Wednesday group attendee, I am now an established client, one of a core group of old timers on the program. If one of us is absent once, twice or more, then we know that the others miss us, are concerned for our wellbeing, and alert staff to our concerns.

 

‘She’s been very depressed lately.’ ‘OK. We’ll give her a ring. Thanks for letting us know.’ ‘He had an appointment with a specialist, and hasn’t been back since.’ ‘Right. We’ll try to contact him.’ It is reassuring to know that others are thinking of you.

 

There are still days of chaos, as elderly figures shuffle aimlessly around the circuit, looking for an exercise they ‘can do.’ By the time they’ve fixed on one, it’s time to move on, and so begins another shambolic search for another ‘can do.’ This is particularly frustrating when students on placement conduct the sessions; it is difficult for young people to assert authority over reluctant or insecure participants. And they deliver their instructions in tentative tones, too soft to penetrate the resistant hearing of senior citizens who, like recalcitrant children, are only too willing to deploy diversionary tactics.

 

On these days I become exhausted when I observe the energy invested in avoidance, and feel that the therapists would be justified in resorting to something much stronger than caffeine to restore their sanity and professional equilibrium.

 

I attended the Wednesday group for over three years, but it seemed that a lifetime had elapsed since my heart attack. The event itself still seems surreal, it happened so quickly. The hospitalisation and medical procedure washed over me like a blur. It did change my life, but not too drastically, although the cost of travel insurance triggers a reality check.

 

Funding was withdrawn from the program, and although it was subsequently reinstated, I opted to move on and organise my own fitness and nutritional regime. My local doctor supervises ongoing health prophylaxis and concerns.

 

The children and grandchildren have recovered from my shock, and slotted me back into the role of hardy survivor, as they press on with their busy schedules. The attack has been factored into a predictability of durability. The stent, I am told, has a long life, all going well. I’ve become a statistic, adding to the survivors of heart attacks, and boosting the number of women who’ve succumbed to a heart attack.

 

But as long as I remain a fluid entity in the burgeoning ageing population, I’ll always be thankful for my health and a daily engagement with life.

 

Cleo Lynch     ã 2008

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REHABILITATION

In recovery from a heart attack, I was plunged into an identity crisis. Who was I now? What are my capabilities? Instead of walking briskly, I gingerly moved one foot after the other in a tentative excursion to the corner shop, feeling about ninety, and not even a sprightly ninety. The news filtered through to my friends, sending shock palpitations through the various networks.

 

‘You look so well.’ ‘You’ve always had so much energy.’ ‘You’ve always looked after yourself, bringing your own lunch to work, not eating junk food.’

 

Sheer disbelief was the general reaction.  I received many calls and visits, which filled my days, and initially, left me gratefully exhausted.

 

Easter came and went, and my daughters and their families were attentive and supportive. I religiously consulted the structured program for walking. Now I could walk for longer; now I could graduate from a stroll to a comfortable lope; now I could stride out. But sometimes even I had to admit that I overdid it. One day I had to sit down in the gutter, I felt so faint, my head giddy, my legs jelly-weak.

 

And then there was the medication. I avoid drugs, preferring homespun remedies, which I concoct and dispense. This was to change dramatically, as I was now on medication for life. Where once I could decide when to take medication, now I had to ‘take as directed.’ The hospital had given me a medication card, ticking the various columns of type, amount and frequency. It took me weeks to perform the daily medication ritual without referring to that card. Being dependent on medication conflicts with my ideal of being healthy and independent. But to stay healthy and independent I am now to be dependent on pills.

 

Busy with visitors over Easter, I delayed enrolling for the hospital rehabilitation program and then found myself on a waiting list. Finally, on the nominated day, I navigated my way through the sprawling precincts of the inner city hospital to the gymnasium.

 

On the first day the staff assess you, recording blood pressure and pulse rate, and printing out your heart rhythm from a machine. Then you are dispatched to various supervised activities, such as walking around the circuit, and peddling on the exercise bike. You are warned not to overdo it or become breathless. Well, there was no risk of that on the exercise bike. I was either going to die of boredom, or my legs would drop off before my heart felt any exertion.

 

Over the weeks I was gradually introduced to the equipment in the gymnasium. As part of the exercise sessions we also had to walk down the hospital corridors, targets of curious stares from other clients.

 

‘Come on now, walk briskly,’ the therapist would encourage, with more energy in her voice than sparked in our legs. Walking briskly translated into lumbering heavily for some of the group.

 

I surveyed the surroundings and the motley collection of my fellow travellers on the path to rehabilitation. On a table littered with journals, jugs of water and paper cups, a copy of The Daily Telegraph displayed the preferred source of written news for at least one of the participants.

Studying it attentively was a woman well into middle age, whose dyed hair struggled dully to revive some claim to glamour. A multi-coloured top hung loosely over black tights, completing an image of listlessness masquerading as energy. I haven’t seen her since that first day. Perhaps she completed the program.

 

Then there is a younger man, slightly built, whose sparse hair is pulled back in a ponytail. He brings a small, stocky dog on a lead. As we all walk our laps around the edge of the gymnasium floor, the dog stands wistfully on the sideline, its leash trailing listlessly along the ground. Obedience deprives it of participating in this harmless activity, one of the few rewards in the life of an inner city doggie. The rehabilitation introductory program officially lasts six weeks, but someone joked that since this man had been coming for the last six years, maybe the dog was now the patient.

 

One man looks so like Rene Rivkin, I was sure he must be a relative. He confided that he is constantly mistaken for Rene, and has been mobbed by people here and overseas. Well poor Rene is now tragically dead, or perhaps, now free of a tragic life. I suggested that the Rivkin look-alike have a T-shirt emblazoned ‘Haunting ASIC,’ and flaunt it around the Stock Exchange.

 

Our group includes academics, a solicitor, a film scriptwriter, a couple of younger men, and a significant number of persons with English as a second language. The gender balance varies from week to week, but is tilted in favour of males.

 

We women also have our little foibles. There’s myself, a dedicated stranger to gymnasiums, feeling distinctly self-conscious and a bit of a fake in sports shoes and related gear. I long ago had instructed my children to inscribe my epitaph, ‘Mum never entered a gym.’

 

Another woman, tall, slim and attractive, wears jewellery complete with necklace, and horror of horrors, jeans with perfectly ironed, sharp creases. No untidy railway tracks here. Jeans ironed with trouser creases are anathema to me, whose prowess with an iron has always lacked many degrees of excellence, and has never been wasted on jeans. This aversion, coupled with the woman’s perfect grooming with never a hair out place, made me wonder why she attended our group, and my fears are confirmed. While we all conscientiously lift the hand weights slowly to our shoulders, she swings hers effortlessly up over her head, executing many more swings than the rest of us. When directed to walk briskly around the edge of the gym floor, those of us unlucky enough to be behind her straggle helplessly as, strolling relaxedly, she increases the gap between us and the rest of the group, until eventually the gap becomes a lap.

 

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the top heavy Italian woman, who scurries past all of us on the inside, arms and legs moving frenetically in a power walk. I also have an aversion to the word ‘power’ and avoid any activities with that intimidating tag. As I struggle on the treadmill, clinging desperately to the supports so as not to tumble backwards, she is flashing along on the machine beside me, legs striding out, arms swinging vigorously, with never a hint that she may overbalance. Such commitment renders me a gauche spectacle, a fish out of water in a gymnasium, the story of my athletic life.

 

The exercise program was followed by information sessions on nutrition, heart attacks, treatment, the impact and effects of this incident and the benefits of rehabilitation. We are exhorted to share the positives and negatives of this life-changing occurrence.

 

The negatives are generally grouped around food; diligence and deprivation are not alas, regularly rewarded by ongoing weight loss. Copious quantities of carrot snacks, bread sparingly smeared with margarine, pieces of fruit with the accompanying intake of fructose, are not universally conducive to celebrating that sensuous relationship most of us have cultivated with food.

 

For some, the change has been drastic. The elimination of sugar, sweets, fat and junk food leaves a big gap in lifestyles, which is not easily filled by substitutions of fruit, boiled vegetables and wholemeal products. Cravings plague them as they grieve for the loss of one lifestyle, while trying with grim resentment, to adjust to another. Overcome with guilt when they relapse, they remain static on a weight plateau.

 

Neither do I think many of us benefited from the sincere empathy shown by the counselling staff conducting these sessions. Pleasant, well-meaning, earnestly sincere young women, they ‘shared’ with us that, while they hadn’t had heart attacks, they too were on special diets. One seemed to suffer from unidentified stresses and allergies, and another was on some kind of elimination diet, which seems to have had the counter-indication of eliminating any colour from her personality. Had these women been vibrant and sparkling, they might have exuded energy and encouragement. But they were plain, dowdy, sweetly sincere and positively uninteresting, and while appreciating their efforts, I felt determinedly reluctant to be cloyed into this syrup of empathy.

 

I’d been making changes to my eating habits since the day I accidentally caught sight of my weight while on the scales in the doctor’s surgery, well before my heart attack. I’d even felt constrained to acquire a set of scales, admittedly only a cast-off set in the rubbish bay. The possibility of a heart attack had never entered my mind, but I was shamed by this accidental truth which straining zips had trussed up in tight denial.

 

Latte coffee nearly disappeared off the menu, as I tried to adjust to the substitution of long blacks. But this almost destroyed the ambience of the coffee lounge. A latte was one of my few concessions to milk, and I refused to tamper with it. How could ‘a skinny, decaf, soy’ possibly be classed as coffee? I have compromised with substitutes of plain cocoa, and green tea. One of my friends drinks green tea diligently each day, claiming that it was ‘purifying.’ However, as she is also a liberal consumer of wine, we challenged her to calculate the ratio of purification to alcohol consumption.

 

While sugar is not a problem for me, maintaining the recommended fibre intake has become a challenge. To ingest enough fibre requires a commitment to eating quantities of the right food, which is in conflict with reducing an overall food intake. And anyway, who wants to spend all day eating fibre?

 

The session on salt and alcohol was quite depressing. While I eat a nominally salt-free diet, I was now obliged to scrutinise more closely labels specifically designed to avoid scrutiny.

 

The session on alcohol began positively, as the young, fresh-faced nutritionist projected an overhead slide proclaiming the ‘Benefits of Alcohol.’ But before this positive information could be savoured, she’d replaced it with the next slide which was so prescriptive of alcohol intake, you’d be struggling to imbibe enough to accumulate any benefits, and could eliminate purifying green tea from the diet altogether. And as my family and friends know, red wine, ‘krasnya vino,’ as the Russians say, is one of my favourite indulgences. Since the heart attack I’ve been dribbling puny amounts into my glass, to generate a psychological satisfaction, a petty embargo on this small pleasure.

 

Of course, the caring and sharing group about stress is a real hit, especially with the men, who vehemently challenge the role of stress in a heart attack, stressfully stressing that stress is good, and good stress is conducive to productivity, and they couldn’t do their jobs without it. It seems to have escaped them that right now they’re not actually doing their jobs, but attending a heart rehabilitation group. The notion of how stress can develop a life of its own, and the resources the body has to marshal to manage stress doesn’t get a gurnsey.

 

The ‘feeling’ word is also given a wide berth, with diverse suggestions of rational substitutes for this component. It seems always thus, that men generally are unwilling, or indeed unable, to tease out their emotions and fears. The relative brevity of the rehabilitation program, with the attendant change of group members as some drop out, and others come in, inhibits the opportunity to create the safety net of trust so critical for disclosures of vulnerabilities. Women have had more practice, but this seems a very iffy concept in a male world.

 

But the session on physical exertion, specifically sex, is a winner, generating many anxious enquiries. When might it be safe to resume? How energetic should it be? All are valid concerns, particularly in the context of the layers of meaning of the words ‘die’ and ‘death’ through the ages. Theatre audiences of past centuries well understood that if a character exclaimed ‘I die,’ he was depicting an experience more salacious than a heart attack. And in our day, ambulance logs would confirm instances of hapless individuals trapped under the dead weight of a fatal climax.

 

The group facilitation process puzzles me. After the social worker has elaborated briefly on the written comments and questions on the whiteboard, she informs us that this is the extent of her contribution. The rest, she said, is up to us. The trouble is that there are many different kinds of us. There are men and there are women; there are extroverts and there are introverts; those who commandeer the group dynamics and drive us to the brink of boredom; and those who just politely listen, while furtively noting the time; those whose first language is English; and those who nurture a different culture and language. I’d always thought the role of the facilitator was to ensure that the group functioned, rather than dys-functioned and found myself inwardly chafing against what I perceived to be a lack of professionalism in this process.

 

Rather than make any effort to contribute, I opted for passive withdrawal, daydreaming my way through the relentless monologues of a group dominator’s litany of self-righteous martyrdom. Anyway, I’d almost completed this segment of rehabilitation and was soon to move on to the ‘Wednesday group,’ whatever that entailed.

 

And rather than try to find out more information, I chose to treat it like an adventure into the unknown, and take things as they come.

In recovery from a heart attack, I was plunged into an identity crisis. Who was I now? What are my capabilities? Instead of walking briskly, I gingerly moved one foot after the other in a tentative excursion to the corner shop, feeling about ninety, and not even a sprightly ninety. The news filtered through to my friends, sending shock palpitations through the various networks.

 

‘You look so well.’ ‘You’ve always had so much energy.’ ‘You’ve always looked after yourself, bringing your own lunch to work, not eating junk food.’

 

Sheer disbelief was the general reaction.  I received many calls and visits, which filled my days, and initially, left me gratefully exhausted.

 

Easter came and went, and my daughters and their families were attentive and supportive. I religiously consulted the structured program for walking. Now I could walk for longer; now I could graduate from a stroll to a comfortable lope; now I could stride out. But sometimes even I had to admit that I overdid it. One day I had to sit down in the gutter, I felt so faint, my head giddy, my legs jelly-weak.

 

And then there was the medication. I avoid drugs, preferring homespun remedies, which I concoct and dispense. This was to change dramatically, as I was now on medication for life. Where once I could decide when to take medication, now I had to ‘take as directed.’ The hospital had given me a medication card, ticking the various columns of type, amount and frequency. It took me weeks to perform the daily medication ritual without referring to that card. Being dependent on medication conflicts with my ideal of being healthy and independent. But to stay healthy and independent I am now to be dependent on pills.

 

Busy with visitors over Easter, I delayed enrolling for the hospital rehabilitation program and then found myself on a waiting list. Finally, on the nominated day, I navigated my way through the sprawling precincts of the inner city hospital to the gymnasium.

 

On the first day the staff assess you, recording blood pressure and pulse rate, and printing out your heart rhythm from a machine. Then you are dispatched to various supervised activities, such as walking around the circuit, and peddling on the exercise bike. You are warned not to overdo it or become breathless. Well, there was no risk of that on the exercise bike. I was either going to die of boredom, or my legs would drop off before my heart felt any exertion.

 

Over the weeks I was gradually introduced to the equipment in the gymnasium. As part of the exercise sessions we also had to walk down the hospital corridors, targets of curious stares from other clients.

 

‘Come on now, walk briskly,’ the therapist would encourage, with more energy in her voice than sparked in our legs. Walking briskly translated into lumbering heavily for some of the group.

 

I surveyed the surroundings and the motley collection of my fellow travellers on the path to rehabilitation. On a table littered with journals, jugs of water and paper cups, a copy of The Daily Telegraph displayed the preferred source of written news for at least one of the participants.

Studying it attentively was a woman well into middle age, whose dyed hair struggled dully to revive some claim to glamour. A multi-coloured top hung loosely over black tights, completing an image of listlessness masquerading as energy. I haven’t seen her since that first day. Perhaps she completed the program.

 

Then there is a younger man, slightly built, whose sparse hair is pulled back in a ponytail. He brings a small, stocky dog on a lead. As we all walk our laps around the edge of the gymnasium floor, the dog stands wistfully on the sideline, its leash trailing listlessly along the ground. Obedience deprives it of participating in this harmless activity, one of the few rewards in the life of an inner city doggie. The rehabilitation introductory program officially lasts six weeks, but someone joked that since this man had been coming for the last six years, maybe the dog was now the patient.

 

One man looks so like Rene Rivkin, I was sure he must be a relative. He confided that he is constantly mistaken for Rene, and has been mobbed by people here and overseas. Well poor Rene is now tragically dead, or perhaps, now free of a tragic life. I suggested that the Rivkin look-alike have a T-shirt emblazoned ‘Haunting ASIC,’ and flaunt it around the Stock Exchange.

 

Our group includes academics, a solicitor, a film scriptwriter, a couple of younger men, and a significant number of persons with English as a second language. The gender balance varies from week to week, but is tilted in favour of males.

 

We women also have our little foibles. There’s myself, a dedicated stranger to gymnasiums, feeling distinctly self-conscious and a bit of a fake in sports shoes and related gear. I long ago had instructed my children to inscribe my epitaph, ‘Mum never entered a gym.’

 

Another woman, tall, slim and attractive, wears jewellery complete with necklace, and horror of horrors, jeans with perfectly ironed, sharp creases. No untidy railway tracks here. Jeans ironed with trouser creases are anathema to me, whose prowess with an iron has always lacked many degrees of excellence, and has never been wasted on jeans. This aversion, coupled with the woman’s perfect grooming with never a hair out place, made me wonder why she attended our group, and my fears are confirmed. While we all conscientiously lift the hand weights slowly to our shoulders, she swings hers effortlessly up over her head, executing many more swings than the rest of us. When directed to walk briskly around the edge of the gym floor, those of us unlucky enough to be behind her straggle helplessly as, strolling relaxedly, she increases the gap between us and the rest of the group, until eventually the gap becomes a lap.

 

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the top heavy Italian woman, who scurries past all of us on the inside, arms and legs moving frenetically in a power walk. I also have an aversion to the word ‘power’ and avoid any activities with that intimidating tag. As I struggle on the treadmill, clinging desperately to the supports so as not to tumble backwards, she is flashing along on the machine beside me, legs striding out, arms swinging vigorously, with never a hint that she may overbalance. Such commitment renders me a gauche spectacle, a fish out of water in a gymnasium, the story of my athletic life.

 

The exercise program was followed by information sessions on nutrition, heart attacks, treatment, the impact and effects of this incident and the benefits of rehabilitation. We are exhorted to share the positives and negatives of this life-changing occurrence.

 

The negatives are generally grouped around food; diligence and deprivation are not alas, regularly rewarded by ongoing weight loss. Copious quantities of carrot snacks, bread sparingly smeared with margarine, pieces of fruit with the accompanying intake of fructose, are not universally conducive to celebrating that sensuous relationship most of us have cultivated with food.

 

For some, the change has been drastic. The elimination of sugar, sweets, fat and junk food leaves a big gap in lifestyles, which is not easily filled by substitutions of fruit, boiled vegetables and wholemeal products. Cravings plague them as they grieve for the loss of one lifestyle, while trying with grim resentment, to adjust to another. Overcome with guilt when they relapse, they remain static on a weight plateau.

 

Neither do I think many of us benefited from the sincere empathy shown by the counselling staff conducting these sessions. Pleasant, well-meaning, earnestly sincere young women, they ‘shared’ with us that, while they hadn’t had heart attacks, they too were on special diets. One seemed to suffer from unidentified stresses and allergies, and another was on some kind of elimination diet, which seems to have had the counter-indication of eliminating any colour from her personality. Had these women been vibrant and sparkling, they might have exuded energy and encouragement. But they were plain, dowdy, sweetly sincere and positively uninteresting, and while appreciating their efforts, I felt determinedly reluctant to be cloyed into this syrup of empathy.

 

I’d been making changes to my eating habits since the day I accidentally caught sight of my weight while on the scales in the doctor’s surgery, well before my heart attack. I’d even felt constrained to acquire a set of scales, admittedly only a cast-off set in the rubbish bay. The possibility of a heart attack had never entered my mind, but I was shamed by this accidental truth which straining zips had trussed up in tight denial.

 

Latte coffee nearly disappeared off the menu, as I tried to adjust to the substitution of long blacks. But this almost destroyed the ambience of the coffee lounge. A latte was one of my few concessions to milk, and I refused to tamper with it. How could ‘a skinny, decaf, soy’ possibly be classed as coffee? I have compromised with substitutes of plain cocoa, and green tea. One of my friends drinks green tea diligently each day, claiming that it was ‘purifying.’ However, as she is also a liberal consumer of wine, we challenged her to calculate the ratio of purification to alcohol consumption.

 

While sugar is not a problem for me, maintaining the recommended fibre intake has become a challenge. To ingest enough fibre requires a commitment to eating quantities of the right food, which is in conflict with reducing an overall food intake. And anyway, who wants to spend all day eating fibre?

 

The session on salt and alcohol was quite depressing. While I eat a nominally salt-free diet, I was now obliged to scrutinise more closely labels specifically designed to avoid scrutiny.

 

The session on alcohol began positively, as the young, fresh-faced nutritionist projected an overhead slide proclaiming the ‘Benefits of Alcohol.’ But before this positive information could be savoured, she’d replaced it with the next slide which was so prescriptive of alcohol intake, you’d be struggling to imbibe enough to accumulate any benefits, and could eliminate purifying green tea from the diet altogether. And as my family and friends know, red wine, ‘krasnya vino,’ as the Russians say, is one of my favourite indulgences. Since the heart attack I’ve been dribbling puny amounts into my glass, to generate a psychological satisfaction, a petty embargo on this small pleasure.

 

Of course, the caring and sharing group about stress is a real hit, especially with the men, who vehemently challenge the role of stress in a heart attack, stressfully stressing that stress is good, and good stress is conducive to productivity, and they couldn’t do their jobs without it. It seems to have escaped them that right now they’re not actually doing their jobs, but attending a heart rehabilitation group. The notion of how stress can develop a life of its own, and the resources the body has to marshal to manage stress doesn’t get a gurnsey.

 

The ‘feeling’ word is also given a wide berth, with diverse suggestions of rational substitutes for this component. It seems always thus, that men generally are unwilling, or indeed unable, to tease out their emotions and fears. The relative brevity of the rehabilitation program, with the attendant change of group members as some drop out, and others come in, inhibits the opportunity to create the safety net of trust so critical for disclosures of vulnerabilities. Women have had more practice, but this seems a very iffy concept in a male world.

 

But the session on physical exertion, specifically sex, is a winner, generating many anxious enquiries. When might it be safe to resume? How energetic should it be? All are valid concerns, particularly in the context of the layers of meaning of the words ‘die’ and ‘death’ through the ages. Theatre audiences of past centuries well understood that if a character exclaimed ‘I die,’ he was depicting an experience more salacious than a heart attack. And in our day, ambulance logs would confirm instances of hapless individuals trapped under the dead weight of a fatal climax.

 

The group facilitation process puzzles me. After the social worker has elaborated briefly on the written comments and questions on the whiteboard, she informs us that this is the extent of her contribution. The rest, she said, is up to us. The trouble is that there are many different kinds of us. There are men and there are women; there are extroverts and there are introverts; those who commandeer the group dynamics and drive us to the brink of boredom; and those who just politely listen, while furtively noting the time; those whose first language is English; and those who nurture a different culture and language. I’d always thought the role of the facilitator was to ensure that the group functioned, rather than dys-functioned and found myself inwardly chafing against what I perceived to be a lack of professionalism in this process.

 

Rather than make any effort to contribute, I opted for passive withdrawal, daydreaming my way through the relentless monologues of a group dominator’s litany of self-righteous martyrdom. Anyway, I’d almost completed this segment of rehabilitation and was soon to move on to the ‘Wednesday group,’ whatever that entailed.

 

And rather than try to find out more information, I chose to treat it like an adventure into the unknown, and take things as they come.

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Theatre (Episode 4 of The Attack)

The theatre was a clinical clutter of imaging screens and bulky pieces of equipment, a hostile landscape starkly illuminated by the extra-terrestrial fluorescence of harsh, probing lights. Gowned, gloved and masked aliens muttered a perfunctory acknowledgement of my presence when, like a creature paralysed in the glare of impending disaster, I lay trapped in their midst.

The doctor who had supervised my informed consent was there, and another figure detached himself from the faceless group to tell me he was a close colleague of the cardiologist. The medical team was jocular and talkative, bantering amongst themselves.

I knew I did not want to have this procedure, that I would have given anything to avoid it. My normal stoic approach to these situations nearly deserted me, and as I was wheeled through the door, I surrendered to a wave of self-pity and distress. But confronted with the inevitability of the moment, I desperately dredged up my age-old strategy of focusing on when it all would be over. In my past religious moments, I would contemplate Christ’s three hours on the cross. If He could hang on the cross, I’d reason, then I could endure the dentist’s drill, the doctor’s knife, the needle in the vein or whatever other procedure punctured my life. Now in my agnostic phase, bereft of religious consolation, I resorted to the abbreviated version, that is, to hang in there because nothing goes on forever.

My squeamishness was justified; it was one of the most unpleasant procedures I’ve experienced, all under a local anaesthetic. A passive participant in this surgical ensemble, I was excluded from the medical dialogue, except for cursory instructions to breathe deeply, breathe normally, hold my breath. The medicos, absorbed in the images on the screens, a visual entertainment that I was happy to forego, sometimes forgot about the breathing routine, until my choking compliance distracted them.

‘What’s the matter?’ they queried.

‘I can’t hold my breath any longer,’ I gasped.

‘Oh, sorry-y, we forgot to tell you to breathe again.’

Eventually they located the blockage, a narrowing of the left anterior descending artery, the LAD, which pumps blood into the left ventricle. Flippantly they announced that they’d have to use the expensive stent. As this would add over two thousand dollars to my already mounting disquiet, I interrupted the proceedings.

‘Hang on boys (as in ‘cowboys’)’, I interjected. Is ‘cowboys’ a synonym for doctors, I wonder? ‘Let’s make sure that I’m understanding this properly,’ and then explained my understanding of the need for this stent.

‘Yep,’ they chorused, ‘and this is just such a situation.’ Lying there on the operating table, tubes dangling from my body and cocktails of drugs shooting up my veins, I had little choice but to succumb to the dictates of informed consent and permit the insertion of the deluxe prothesis.

But the procedure dragged on, with muttered references to ‘the difficulty of the angle,’ ‘sharp,’ ‘acute,’ adding anxiety to my discomfort. Finally I asked if they would be able to insert the stent, or would I have to undergo surgery. They assured me that they would be able to complete this procedure. And eventually they did, although I was again left with the now familiar, nagging, heavy sensation in my left arm.

Various explanations were offered for this anomaly, such as the insertion of the balloon and stent mimicking the blocking of the artery, or the insertion of the stent damaging a branch of the artery. The latter, at least, is true, as I was told I now have two damaged areas. But this was one of the identified risks, and the problematic configuration of my artery had raised the stakes.

Wheeled back into a private room, I had now graduated from the status of a pre-operative, to that of a post-operative patient. But there was to be no alleviation from discomfort, rather a continuation of existing restrictions, with the addition of new ones.

Various apparatus again tethered me to the bed, and although I was no longer ‘Nil by Mouth,’ I had to remain flat on my back with my legs apart, and keep my right leg immobile, as the stent procedure had been performed through my right groin. The result was indigestion from swallowing while trying to eat lying flat on my back. And indigestion pain is itself a concern in the context of a diagnosed heart attack.

And I still had to keep convincing myself that I’d suffered a heart attack, with damage to the heart muscle. It still seemed so surreal.

Next morning I was allowed to move my right leg, leave the bed, wheel my drip into the shower and sit up to eat breakfast. During the morning ancillary staff visited me, to mete out my life in measured doses of medication and physical limitations. The pharmacist delivered scripts and pills, and a verdict of lifelong dosage. The rehabilitation worker prescribed restricted walking and lifting, a traffic authority mandate of no driving for a fortnight, and an out-patient rehabilitation program.

Then my eldest son arrived.

‘You’re not as invincible as you thought you were,’ he offered helpfully.

‘Well no, I never thought I was invincible, just a little more durable,’ I replied. But I think what he was really saying was ‘You’re not as permanent as I’ve always taken for granted you were.’ Just a reality check about parents’ mortality kicking in.

And then, suddenly, the health system, earmarking my bed for another coronary emergency, ejected me from my room and discharged me to the care of my local doctor, all before lunchtime. After just over two days in hospital with a critical life event, I arrived home complete with heart history and stent, to begin life anew under these changed circumstances.

I’d been well looked after, and family and friends were solicitous and attentive. Genetics, an inescapable predictor of health and longevity was, I was told, the major indicator for my heart attack.

But while my physiology had been repaired, my psychology was in turmoil. Confidence, optimism, strength of purpose, had now mutated into tentativeness, vulnerability and uncertainty. It seems weird, facing the future with a heart problem, when I continue to feel and look so healthy.

The feeling that control of my life had been wrested from me plunged me into an identity crisis. Normal coping mechanisms deserted me. I’d always thought I knew what was best for me, even if I didn’t always abide by it. Now my life was to be framed within new guidelines, the unpalatable parameters of experts.

Of course I could choose to ignore these opinions and therapies. But rebellion is the province of adolescents. Responsibility is the obligation of adults. I fretfully stifled my childish protests of ‘it’s not fair,’ and ‘why me?’ and resigned myself to the next phase of my heart adventure, the hospital out-patient rehabilitation program.

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CASUALTY (Episode 3 of The Attack)

CASUALTY
The acute care casualty ward was a long, wide dormitory, accommodating both men and women in a row of beds against each wall. Under the relentless glare of the harsh, functional lighting, the décor of drab, cream paint infected the atmosphere with a jaundiced pallor. Curtained screens provided furtive discretion when necessary, but otherwise remained drawn back to allow the nurses to observe their charges.

Confident that I’d be discharged from hospital the next morning, I’d deferred requests to contact my daughter.

‘I can ring her myself when I get home tomorrow, and minimise any shock waves.’

But I was to learn that I’d still be here tomorrow, as all the tests had confirmed heart pain, and I would have to see a cardiologist. Reluctantly I gave permission for my daughter to be contacted.

‘But,’ I directed, clinging to the illusion of some vestige of parental authority, ‘tell her not to rush in tonight. I’m being well taken care of, and there’s nothing she can do.’

Predictably my protestations were ignored.

‘Of course she would say that, wouldn’t she? She’s my mother,’ was my daughter’s dismissive response. ‘And you need to know that my mother has a high pain threshold, a very high pain threshold,’ she emphasised.

Over my prostrate body she and the nurse conducted a discourse on my response to pain, with the nurse brandishing my five out of ten pain rating, to collude with my daughter’s complaint.

My opinion was not sought, but had they consulted me, I would have asked, ‘What is pain?’ I would have told them there is some pain I’d rate twenty out of ten. But that’s the pain no one wants to know about; that’s the pain you deflect from other people’s lives; that’s the pain that disturbs the dynamics of reciprocal contracts of conditions and expectations of friendships and relationships; that’s the pain that twists the contours of the psyche into tight little knots. My heart pain was physical discomfort, and I couldn’t rate it high on a scale of pain.

But being in no position to debate, I lay there meekly as the roles reversed, and my daughter became the parent. Asserting that she’d be back early in the morning to see the cardiologist, my daughter/mother then departed to resume her next shift as wife/mother, and I was left to grapple with this unexpected life event.

Sleep was difficult, tethered as I was to various apparatus; plastic tubes dripping fluids into my veins, instruments pumping up my arm at scheduled intervals by remote control from the nurses’ station for blood pressure readings and oxygen levels. A cumbersome oxygen mask added to my discomfort and I dozed fitfully.

Through the night, a young woman who had overdosed on pills was admitted into the bed beside me. Her name, I overheard with a stab of pain that lurched my heart off the scale of ten, was Debbie. We used to have a Debbie in our family. How ironic to be beside a Debbie in this hospital that had also taken delivery of my brother’s lifeless body.

The medicos were questioning her about suicide attempts and relationships; and did she still want to die, or now want to live. I heard, but tried not to hear. How old was she, and what did she look like, this Debbie in the curtain-surrounded bed next to me, whose fractured life had been freighted here to be pumped out, patched up, prescribed and programmed into a precipitous recovery, and plugged back into a world that had plunged her into black despair.

If only hope could be formulated into an antidote of intravenous drips!

It’s now Monday morning and the next shift is cracking into action, relieving the wilting night staff of their duties. The pace accelerated into manic activity, as ambulance officers trundled in their cargo, approaching the nursing staff with notes and medical observations.

‘Yep. Sounds like he’s ours. Better bring him in here,’ a nurse responded to an ambulance officer’s medical summary.

There was the well-spoken man insisting he had to be out of here by lunchtime for an afternoon appointment on a construction site. He was still there when I left the ward in the afternoon.

And the man two beds down, injured in a car accident, making frantic calls on his mobile phone, trying to locate his vehicle.

A plump, olive-complexioned, middle-aged woman was in the bed opposite, or rather, not in the bed opposite, because she kept stubbornly marching towards the door with her bags. When harassed nurses stoically marshalled her back to her bed, she accused them in tirades of abuse of molesting her. Eventually an infusion of drugs anchors the truant to rigid protocol, scheduling her to a sedated reprieve from her chaotic reality.

Over in the corner a young man, wriggling and squirming, was hooked up on a cannula. When left to his own devices, he relayed repeated messages for the toilet, scurrying the staff backwards and forwards to his insistent demands. But nothing soothed his agitation, and he continued to devote his energy to disconnecting himself from the cannula. He was out of the bed, over the bed, twisted in sheets, entwined in tangles of plastic tubing, until finally he ripped the cannula from his arm, spraying crimson spots of blood in random daubs.

Unimpressed with his antics, the nurse stripped and remade the bed, cleaned him up and inserted another cannula. However, when next I looked he’d disappeared, perhaps escaping to avail himself of some alternative medical treatment that promised more immediate relief from his symptoms.

My daughter arrived early to see the cardiologist, but he didn’t appear at eight, or at nine. Ten o’clock came and went, and like extras in a grand production, we watched the main actors play out their human dramas in this acute care ward.

Eventually the busy specialist appeared and outlined my impending medical intervention in precise clinical terms of diagnosis, prognosis, procedures and risk. Risk! How could I apply the bland, bureaucratic indicators of risk assessment, while macabre technicolour flashes of red dye draining into an artery via my groin were infusing me with panic and fear?

Perhaps, I volunteered to the cardiologist, dehydration would deliver me from this fate, as I’d not had anything to eat or drink since the previous evening. This was quickly remedied with an immediate insertion of yet another drip, of saline and sugar.

My offspring crowded around my bed, bewildered, distressed, unwittingly puncturing me with jolting jabs of panic, as I lay there in a prison of monitors and plastic pathways flowing with unfamiliar fluids.

‘I can put a tube in you if you want, and you can have some of Granny’s goodies,’ a nurse teasingly offered my grandson, but his curiosity faltered at my bedside. This was not some familiar cyberspace alien invading a technological fantasy world; this was an alien Granny, a bizarre image that distorted the screen into a reality world infiltrated by an invisible enemy.

Complete with oxygen mask I must have given my family a shock. Mothers are supposed to be so durable, and here I was, a helpless captive of tangled plastic restraints.

And I too am a little anxious. My mother died at sixty-nine. At only sixty-six, will I make it to that age? I had been so serene in my vision of longevity. Bugger!

The family dispersed, and finally I was trundled up to the coronary care unit, where surrounded by doctors and nurses, I signed the informed consent for the procedure, and for the possibility of having to pay for a special, expensive stent, should there be complications. Not for the first time did I ponder the concept of informed consent, and the tenuousness of a legality premised on the circumstances under which crucial information is imparted.

Scratching my signature onto the proffered form, I dutifully inoculated the hospital against future litigious liability.

And then, I was wheeled into the theatre.

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The Attack – THE HOSPITAL

THE HOSPITAL

What a fateful coincidence! This was the same hospital where, a quarter of a century earlier, the ambulance had delivered my brother, dead on arrival. Not on a train station, but on a train, he had suffered a massive coronary occlusion and couldn’t be revived.

How frightening for him, powerless, in the grip of this attack! The pain choking his life as it flashed before him, poignant visions of family fading without a hug, a warm clasp, a final word! It’s too awful for me to grasp. What devastation for our mother! Was this the grief that finally crushed her spirit and released her into the anaesthetising oblivion of Alzheimer disease?

I too had been on a train but had disembarked before the attack, and was able to get help.

The old inner city hospital is of royal patronage, commemorating the recovery of a royal personage from an assassination attempt.* It is also the acknowledged province of the prestigious, adjoining university and a teaching facility for its medical faculty. Indeed, a vigilant cohort of the medical fraternity had ensured that its hallowed halls and revered reputation would maintain immunity from political interference.

A one-time minister for health had seen his reputation ruined for daring to suggest that inner city beds and

* Assassination attempt on Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh in 1868
health resources be diverted to the ever-burgeoning outer suburbs, which had the highest incidence of paediatric morbidity, obstetric events and other medical conditions. Because it was to these suburbs that young couples had migrated, to afford the Australian dream of owning a home, and to establish families of their own.

But the doctors had aggressively resisted undertaking similar migratory patterns and clung like leaches to their waterfront suburbs, close to inner city and other selected hospitals.

And the fate of the former health minister? Mysteriously, this experienced politician ‘forgot’ to renominate for his seat by the required time. And everyone ‘forgot’ to tell him that the nomination date had been brought forward at a cabinet meeting that he’d been unable to attend.

Powerful interests protect public services, but perhaps not always in the best interests of the public.

And there was the family in our street whose experience with mental illness still resonates. While the age of enlightenment for the mentally ill had begun to dawn, it shone only on the patients, casting the families into shadows of exclusion and ignorance. Blamed for the problem, shoulder the responsibility and pick up the pieces, but do it on your own, was the clear message delivered to that family. Until eventually the patient was despatched back to the bosom of the maligned family who had endured such humiliation at the hands of ‘enlightened’ medical staff.

And for the privilege of those humiliations the family undertook the daily trek from the suburbs to this inner city hospital. And the perpetrators of those humiliations were revered practitioners of this inner city hospital where I now awaited emergency treatment.

But those recollections were far from my consciousness as I was transferred from the trolley to a bed in the emergency ward.

Like the mentally ill patient and family I was now a passive recipient of any treatment and advice dispensed.

But unlike my brother, I was alive.

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The Attack

It was a gradual, sinister assault. My instincts, dulled with complacency and devoid of fear, colluded with the onslaught, dismissing it as an imaginary irritation. Early morning warnings, strange intrusions that disturbed my sleep and shadowed my movements over days, were ignored until their frequency and intensity invaded my consciousness and hammered relentlessly at my stubborn naivety. Only when denial succumbed to spasms of anxiety did I concede there might be a problem.

But too late! Too much time had elapsed; too many warnings ignored. In the dim light of the deserted platform of the underground railway the shadowy spectre attacked, spiralling me into chaos and panic. Galvanised into action I cried out for help. Railway staff quickly responded, an ambulance was called, and the assailant vanished. I was heaved onto a stretcher and freighted publicly and unceremoniously through the city’s centre, to the ambulance vehicle.

Plying me with oral and intravenous therapies, the ambulance officers radioed for the nearest vacant emergency bed. They didn’t say, and I didn’t then know, that a tentative culprit was under scrutiny. I was to learn that the identity had been subsequently confirmed from a line-up of suspect pathology and radiology tests.

My assailant was a major blocked artery. For three days it had been sending out warning symptoms, which I had dismissed as minor irritations.

The slight numbness in my left fingers had masqueraded as my hand having gone to sleep, convincing me that I had been lying on it. The insidious persistence of discomfort in my left forearm over the next couple of days was rationalised as a minor, temporary inconvenience. The cumulative depletion of energy levels became the result of ‘doing too much.’ ‘Listen to your body,’ is my mantra for days like this.

So I listened, slowed down, and had a heart attack.

I didn’t know then that fifty thousand Australians die of heart disease every year. Neither did I know that heart disease is the single most common cause of death for women. I didn’t know that I would have to reconcile to a new reality; that my body, so taken for granted, was suddenly vulnerable; that age, which I’d worn as an emblem of endurance, was now a signpost on a finite journey.

As the trolley trundled through the emergency entrance of the old, inner city hospital, I felt a curious detachment from this surreal environment. The white, shapeless hospital gown swathed me in an unaccustomed acquiescence, a passive acceptance of hospital routines and protocols.

Divested of all but my name, I lay on the emergency bed and waited for someone to tell me about me.

Next episode The Hospital next week

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