Sunday, September 23, 2012

Twinkle toes

A little while ago, I wrote a post about the nightly foot massage ritual I have established with Mum.

I noticed a few weeks ago, that when I finish massaging the cream into Mum's feet, before I put her socks on, she tends to wiggle her toes, rubbing them together. When I asked her about this, she said it was a last attempt to make sure that her toes weren't too slippery from the cream before the socks went on. I teased her gently and called her 'Twinkle Toes', and she laughed.

Ever since then, every time I massage Mum's feet, when I finish each foot, before putting the sock on, I say, "come on, Twinkle Toes," and she wiggles and twitches her toes accordingly, and grins like a little girl.

Seeing that look on her face, and the shared joke that elicits that grin, makes my heart melt. I'm so thankful for these precious times we are able to share.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Blowing a trumpet... but not my own

I feel compelled to sing the praises of my mother's local pharmacy. The Naim Pharmacy, located in the same complex as Mum's GP, (2a/124A Epping Road North Ryde) is owned and run by Joe and Charbel Naim, two brothers who are both pharmacists.

Joe and Charbel took over the pharmacy a number of years ago, before the construction of the purpose-built medical centre complex where it's currently located. The previous pharmacist had been very well regarded by all her clientele, and when she was preparing to leave the business, predictions that no other pharmacist could possibly fill her shoes were common. But the reality is that Joe and Charbel have not only filled her shoes, but well and truly exceeded her in the way they run their business.

Many of their customers are regulars, who are also patients of the GP located in the same complex. Every time I've gone into the pharmacy (which has been quite often since I've been here in Sydney), they always greet me by name (as they do to most people who enter the shop). They are often busy, but are never rushed. Every time I've had a prescription filled there, whether it's Joe or Charbel who serves me, they are very particular about going through the medications that they have dispensed, so I know that what I'm getting is what was on the prescriptions. They have also been very good at pointing out side effects and possible interactions to look out for, especially when Mum was recently prescribed a new medication, and Charbel queried it with me, as he said there might be an interaction with one of the other drugs she was on.

But the thing I'm most excited about right now is the great PBS refund I just received from Medicare. Although most of my visits to Joe and Charbel are to fill prescriptions for Mum (who has well and truly reached the Medicare Safety Net, so gets most of her meds free now), I do have two medications I take on a regular basis, which cost me around $35 each. One day when I paid the $70 to get my two prescriptions filled, I happened to mention to Charbel that I had applied to Centrelink for Carer Payment and was looking forward to the receipt of my Pensioner Concession Card, which would entitle me to cheaper prescriptions ($5.80, as opposed to $35). He said that it would be likely that when I received the card, it would be back-dated, so I should come in and get tax invoices for any prescriptions I'd paid full price for after that date so I could claim the difference back from Medicare.

I had no idea that this would be possible, and wouldn't have thought anything of it if Charbel hadn't mentioned it to me. So after receiving my Pension Concession Card yesterday, I went in to see Charbel, who printed out receipts for all of the prescriptions I'd had filled since 23 July (which was the start date of the card). He also printed out the relevant Medicare claim form and gave me advice on how to fill it in.

So today I toddled off to the local Medicare office, and processed the claim, and for 6 different items, I received a refund of $105. I was very impressed, and grateful to Charbel for taking the initiative to tell me of the entitlement to claim for those prescriptions.

Now at one level, the kind of service that Joe and Charbel provide is nothing extraordinary, and merely what one would expect from a local pharmacist, but I don't think any other pharmacy I've been to has been that good. The way Joe and Charbel have cared for Mum (and for me since I've been here) has been exemplary, and we really appreciate the 'extra mile' that they often seem willing to go. So I wanted to acknowledge how amazing they are, and encourage anyone in this neck of the woods to support their business.

I've commented before how blessed we have been by the wonderful professional people God has sent to care for Mum- the various doctors who have treated her, the community nurses who visit us at home, the palliative care team from Greenwich Hospital, and the staff from Catholic Community Services, who provide domestic and counselling services. Joe and Charbel are certainly right up there with all of these people, as one (or two) of the greatest blessings we have in professional care for Mum.

... and where are we zapping you today?

This is the question Mum was asked by the radiotherapy technicians this afternoon when she went in for her latest treatment (not because they didn't know what she was there for; the question was one of their cross-checks to ensure against any mistaken patient identity issues).

This time, she had a one-off treatment at a higher dose rate, rather than the lower-dose, daily treatments for a fortnight that she had last time. 

This time, the second spinal tumour (at T8) was the main target, as well as a spot on Mum's right hip that was shown up as a 'hot spot' on her recent bone scan, and which may be connected in some way with the pain Mum experiences in her hip when walking.

When Mum was receiving her treatment today, the technicians warned her that she might feel 'pretty sick' in the next few days, as the radiation dose was 'pretty high'. In preparation for this, I had already increased her dose of dexamethasone (an anti-inflammatory steriod given to reduce inflammation at the site of treatment, that also helps to decrease nausea and increase appetite); and given her one of the super-duper anti-nausea tablets (that are only allowed to be prescribed for patients undergoing chemo or radiotherapy), so we were as prepared as we could be.

Tonight, after what could euphemistically be called 'dinner' (all Mum could stomach was one-and-a half party pies and a few sips of orange juice- not because of the treatment; this is a pretty normal representation of her appetite in recent days), Mum started to feel some tight pain in her upper back and stomach. The pain was similar to what she experiences with reflux, but the usual things that relieve her reflux didn't make any impact on the pain this time. It seems that the pain was probably an after-effect of today's radiation, so I suggested she take an Endone and lie down on the lounge to try to get comfortable. Fortunately, once the Endone kicked in, the pain abated a bit, and she was able to have her evening cuppa and go to bed. 

I have I feeling that tonight's episode was a foretaste of things to come in the next few days, so I'm girding my loins, making sure we have plenty of stock of all the meds Mum will need to keep her comfortable over the weekend, and praying hard.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Family likeness

I never really thought that I looked much like Mum. All of my relatives on Mum's side of the family claim that I'm the spitting image of my maternal grandmother (whom I never met, as she died when I was a baby). When I was in my early 20s, Mum showed me a photo of Grandma in her late teens, claiming that my resemblance to her was striking. I couldn't see it at all.

Some years later, after I moved to Hobart, I was looking through some family photos at my uncle and aunt's house, and saw a photo of Grandma, and suddenly it hit me. The likeness was indeed quite striking. I think it has a lot to do with the dark, puffy bags I have under my eyes, and the fact that my eyes always look saggy and tired, just like Grandma's. After this significant epiphany, I got a copy of that photo of Grandma and have it in a frame at home now.

In more recent years, friends who meet Mum for the first time often comment that there is a strong resemblance there between her and me, but I still can't see it. Or at least I couldn't... until today.

I was swanning around on Facebook (as you do) and as my mouse cursor hovered over my own name on a post I'd made, it brought up a picture of my FB 'profile picture' (of me wearing my glasses, which I rarely do) inset into my FB 'cover picture' (one of Mum, at a similar angle). It suddenly hit me that yes, there is a resemblance there (even though Mum is now much thinner than I am).

Funny how it takes a particular picture, angle or juxtaposition of photos to be able to see this. (I think the resemblance is in the cheekbones and glasses ;-)

My Facebook banner, with the picture of Mum inset with my profile picture

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Crossing Borders

Sermon for North Ryde Community Church 16 Sept 2012
Mark 7:24-37; Proverbs22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2:1-10, 14-17
(and yes, I know these readings are really set for the previous Sunday)

When the Gospel of Mark was written, one of the biggest questions for the early church was: “Who is IN, and who is OUT?”

The followers of Jesus were initially Jews, as Christianity developed as a cult out of Judaism, but before long, the Good News spread and many non-Jewish, formerly ‘unclean Gentiles’ joined the believing community. The community was then faced with dilemmas- should Gentile believers be required to follow the Jewish laws? Should the males be circumcised? Should they adhere to the holiness code, of what was clean and unclean to eat, and other practices that are outlined in Jewish law? The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about this in his epistles to the early church.

The question about who is in or out is important to us as we read today’s Gospel reading (and I’ll be focussing on the first section of the reading today), because:
* Mark’s Gospel was written to, and in the context of, a community of Gentile Christians,
* A lot of the ‘action’ in this Gospel happens in Gentile regions
* the action often involves Gentiles, or ‘outsiders’ to the faith community of Jesus’ time, and
* more often than not, it’s those ‘outsiders’ who actually ‘get’ what Jesus is on about. (Indeed, New Testament scholar Bill Loader comments that, “It’s a common feature in Mark that he portrays the disciples as particularly dense”. With the benefits of hindsight, it’s easy for us to laugh at how dense the disciples are, but in the same position, we probably wouldn’t have fared much better.)

So, with all this in mind, we can see that a major theme of Mark’s Gospel is one of inclusion; demonstrating the breadth of God’s love and welcome. I would encourage you to read the whole of Mark’s Gospel through. It’s the shortest of the four Gospels, and is a rollicking read, full of action; a bit like the ‘Boys’ Own Adventure’ of the Bible.

We see this theme of inclusion in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Syro-Phonoecian woman. When it comes to being an outsider or second-class citizen, this woman has the double-whammy. Not only is she a woman (seen as a second class citizen in most cultures of the day), but she is also a Gentile. Therefore it would be pretty outrageous and unlikely that she would dare approach Jesus… but she does.

Jesus’ initial response is to refuse her request; and not only does he refuse her, but he does it in a very insulting way, mouthing a common prejudice of the time.

He says, “Let the children first be fed; for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27).

I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sit well with my picture of a loving, kind, ‘sweetness and light’ Jesus. In saying these words, Jesus is reinforcing that his primary mission is to the ‘children’ of Israel, and that the Gentiles (ie everyone else) are dogs. The image of dogs here is not one of cute pets, as we might thing of dogs in our society today. No, dogs back in Jesus’ day were wild, dirty, smelly animals (hmm... not much difference really :-) that were not pets, but nasty, scavenging animals, that were not at all nice. So calling Gentiles dogs is both insulting and demeaning.

We can never know if what we have here is ‘accurate history’ (as we must remember that the Gospels were written as theological documents, not detailed, historical accounts), or a story where the story-teller was a little careless. He certainly had no compunction about portraying Jesus as saying what many would have said- ie that Israel are God’s children, and the Gentiles are like dogs.

But the good news is that whether in story or reality, Jesus refuses to remain bound by such distinctions.

He crosses the boundary when challenged and convinced by the Syro-Phonoecian woman, and demonstrates the inclusiveness of God’s kingdom by healing her daughter.

Crossing such boundaries and borders is something Jesus did a lot of.

As humans we take great delight in creating and protecting borders. We’ve all heard in recent news about our own country’s border issues, as this week the first shipment of asylum seekers (including unaccompanied minors) was sent to Nauru.

This week’s Old Testament reading from Proverbs also speaks to this contemporary scenario:

“Do not rob the poor because they are poor
or crush the afflicted at the gate;
for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them.” (Prov 22:22-23)

What do we do for the poor and afflicted (like asylum seekers) who come to our gate?

According to the news, we pack them off to some off-shore tent city processing centre where they will languish, possibly for years, before their cases for asylum and refugee status will be properly heard.

All because in our country, there is so much fear of the different, of the outsider, that all our politicians see our borders and the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between in and out, as sacred (and it’s doubly tragic that both sides of politics: the government and opposition, are equally evil on this matter).

They say: 

“Let the fair dinkum Australians first be fed
(and housed and given jobs, healthcare and services);
for it is not good to take the fair dinkum Australians’ bread
and throw it to the foreign dogs
(no matter how desperate and starving they are).”

Sound familiar?

Just as Jesus crossed a well-established boundary when he acknowledged the Syro-Phonoecian woman, and opened his ministry of healing and God’s love and grace to her and others who were ‘outsiders’; so we as followers of Jesus are called to follow his example of love, acceptance and inclusion- reaching across the boundaries that exist in our own society.

Let us pray:
God of outsiders, and of those whose ears are slow to hear
and whose tongues are hesitant to sing,
please make us the agents of your joy.
Help us to hear your word more clearly, to serve you more gladly, and to sing your praises more eagerly.
Then will our daily lives be in tune with your love,
our deeds become channels of Christ’s grace,
and our souls revel in the fellowship of your Spirit.
For your love’s sake.   Amen.
(prayer © Bruce Prewer. Used with permission)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Tale of Two (or Three) Cities

In my 29 years (and some months) I have lived at various times in three different capital cities and two country towns.

I grew up in Sydney, but haven't lived there permanently since I was in my mid-twenties, back in 1989, when I moved to Hobart. Despite what some people say about the excitement factor of Sydney, it's not a place that I would ever choose to live again. Of course, since moving away, I have returned many times, mainly for the purpose of catching up with special people - family and friends - and not for the sake of visiting the city itself.

Hobart is a completely different kettle of fish. In the 17 years I lived there, I fell totally and utterly in love with the place. Actually it took me far less than 17 years to fall in love with Tasmania. I think it was only a year or so after moving to Hobart that I found myself driving into Bright, Vic, to attend a national meeting of Fusion leaders. As we entered the town, I remember looking around at the breathtakingly beautiful scenery, and thinking, "Wow, this is beautiful! Almost as nice as... ooohhh!!!" (because that sentence was heading towards the ending: "... Almost as nice as the Midlands of Tasmania".) It was at this moment that I realised that I had become a Tasmanian- in spirit at least.

Hobart to me is the perfect city. It has all the facilities and advantages of a capital city, without any of the disadvantages. No huge skyscrapers, no pollution or traffic, and people actually look at you on the street, and you often see people you know around town (which can be an advantage or disadvantage, at times). Wherever you go in the Hobart city and suburbs, there is always a view of either the river, the mountain, or both. (The flat I bought in the northern suburbs has a great view from the balcony- the river to the left, the mountain to the right, and straight ahead, a wonderful vista of the Glenorchy industrial estate- what more could a girl want?!) Hobart is the place that I think of when I think of my true 'home', and since moving to Victoria, I have been dreadfully homesick for Tassie.

And then there's Melbourne.

There are good reasons why Melbourne was recently feted as the world's most liveable city. I lived in Melbourne for just over three years, whilst I was doing my theological training. For the first six months, I lived in Kew, a painfully silvertail suburb, where I felt nervous every time I drove up the street where I lived, as there were so many Porsches and other very expensive cars with which I definitely did not want to have a close encounter with my humble little Ford Festiva. For the remaining 2.5 years, I lived in Brunswick, and loved it.

During my time in Melbourne, I always felt safe when walking around the city or catching public transport at night, and actually enjoy coming back to the city whenever I can get down from the north east of the state (or Sydney, where I am based at the moment).

There's just something about Melbourne. I love the feel of Sydney Road in Brunswick, the buzz of the inner city, the trams zipping around, and it's quite easy to drive around and find your way around the city in Melbourne.

I learned to drive in Sydney, and for the two years I studied at UNSW, I drove every day to Kensington from North Ryde, so I was quite experienced at driving in traffic. However, I would never choose to drive around the inner city in Sydney, much preferring to use public transport or taxis. There has always been something scary to me about the prospect of driving around the city or inner suburbs of Sydney.

Melbourne, on the other hand is much easier to get around in a car. In the time I lived there, and  in the almost four years since (of living in a country town that doesn't even have traffic lights), the prospect of driving in Melbourne's CBD has never fazed me. Whenever I go to Melbourne I often choose to stay in hotels in the inner city, and have no problems navigating my way around the city to get to my hotel, and wherever else I need to go. I just look up my route on Google Maps, or consult my trusty Melway, and off I go. I have even become quite proficient in the execution of the infamous 'hook turns' of Melbourne's CBD, where you have to turn right from the left hand lane. This may sound a bit counter-intuitive, and many people criticise hook turns, but I think the hook turn is eminently sensible, as it facilitates traffic flow, which is not held up by cars waiting to turn right in the middle of the street.

It's interesting how two big cities can be so different (at least different in how I experience them).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fading slowly away

In the last little while Mum has had found it difficult to eat anything much. Her appetite is quite measly, and sometimes we resort to a mug of Sustagen instead of a meal, because she just doesn't feel like eating anything (and thankfully, she quite enjoys vanilla Sustagen).

She is also still losing weight. The Mum I see before me now is 'the real Mum' to me, although people who have only really known her in the past ten years or so (since she gave up smoking and put on a lot of weight) are quite shocked at how thin she is now. However, even this image of Mum is starting to fade away a bit as she continues to shrink before my eyes, and become weaker and more tired. (A few weeks ago we bought her some new slacks, and one pair, size 12, were a little bit tight the first time she wore them. On Friday, Mum wore those same slacks, and had to wear a belt with them- and make a new hole in the belt as it wasn't tight enough.)

In addition to the weight loss, Mum is also starting to decrease in strength. The other day, she had trouble lifting the garage roll-a-door, and is starting to find it hard to lift dinner plates and bowls, to put them away in the cupboard over the bench.

As I watch Mum gradually shrinking and growing physically weaker before my eyes, it has occurred to me that maybe it won't be the cancer that kills her, but rather she will just waste away.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

It takes a village (or a lot of Reverends) to raise a child

I've been thinking a lot lately about the needs of children. As I read about both sides of the 'marriage equality debate' using the needs and welfare of children to score political points in their arguments, I can't help but feel angry at some of the outrageous claims that are being made. (Same-sex marriage will result in a new 'Stolen Generation'? Really? Give me strength!)

In the midst of all this, I have experienced lots of warm and fuzzy feelings as I contemplate the life of my favourite little person, and I want to share some of this. I don't usually name names in my blog, but on this occasion I will make an exception, and hope the people concerned don't mind.

Miss Sophia was born about 14mths ago, and her parents, Sandy and Brendan are good friends of mine, both are ordained ministers in the Uniting Church with whom I studied at theological college.

Miss Sophia with her parents, Brendan and Sandy, soon after she was born

Sophia is a gorgeous child, who never fails to charm everyone with whom she comes into contact. I fell in love with her at first sight, and every time I'm in Melbourne I try to take advantage of the opportunity for some cuddle time with her (and grown-up catch-up time with her parents). Being the clucky type that I sometimes can be, I posted some photos of me with Sophia when she was young, and always mention on Facebook when I get the chance to spend some time with her. This prompted another friend, Avril, (who like me is also a minister and single female) to mount a gentle challenge for the title of Sophia's 'Favourite Reverend Aunty'. So we compare notes, being sure to let each other know whenever one of us has spent some time with the lovely Miss Sophia. But I think the reality is that we are both her Favourite Reverend Aunties (and she probably has other favourites too, because she's that kind of popular girl :-)

Miss Sophia recently celebrated her first birthday, and soon after that, I was in Melbourne, and so arrangements were made for a celebratory get together including Sophia, her parents and her two Favourite Reverend Aunties. So picture the scene of four ministers and a painfully cute child, 'doing' Lygon St. It was great fun, and we all had a lovely time. (But next time, I really think the grown ups need to wear dog-collars, just to make it look a bit surreal).

Food is indeed a serious business, as Aunty Caro and Aunty Avril feed Miss Sophia

In addition to her Ratbag Reverend Aunties, Sophia also has a pair of equally mad Reverend Uncles (Tupe and Ikani), who also studied with Brendan and Sandy at theological college. 

For as long as I can remember, there have been jokes around the church about the perils of being a 'PK' (Preacher's Kid... or in Sophia's case, Preachers' Kid). So poor Sophia has no escape, being totally surrounded by clergy (and she has even picked up a one-day-per-week Reverend Nanny... as in child-carer). So she's really doomed... or is she?

Sandy once commented to me how thrilled she is that I have taken such an interest in Sophia and am so keen to be part of her life, and I know that Sandy and Brendan are equally thrilled that so many others are also keen to be part of Sophia's life. And I have to say that I just love hanging out with Sophia. She has recently started to walk, she loves to have stories read, and loves playing with the longsuffering Lucy the dog.

Every child should be so blessed, to have so many people in their lives to surround them with a mantle of love and care and fun.

A little while ago, Avril announced that when Sophia turns 14, her Reverend Aunties are going to take her away for a weekend of Cool Girlstuff Business (or something like that). As much as I can't wait for this to happen, it did occur to me that when Miss Sophia turns 14, I will be 60. But I will be a very cool and hip and groovy 60-year old, so that will be ok.

The cool chicks ;-)

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The fast lane reaches its destination

In an earlier post, I talked about a friend whose father was close to death, and travelling 'in the fast lane' to his final earthly destination.

Today my friend sent me an email to tell me that her father reached that destination in the early hours of this morning.

Rest in peace Norm, and love and prayers to your family and friends.

Sometimes I forget...

Now that the immediacy of my emotional response to Mum's diagnosis and the knowledge that she doesn't have many months left to live, has died down a bit, life for me has started to feel kind of normal again, but in a different way to before. It now feels normal for me to greet Mum every morning with a barrage of questions:

"How are you this morning?" 
"Have you been to the toilet?" 
"Are you in any pain? (and if so, have you taken an Endone?)"
"How was your blood sugar this morning?"
"What did you have for breakfast?"

And it's normal for Mum to demurely answer these questions as I fire them at her (and to reassure me that she doesn't mind me asking them, when I ask if I'm being too bossy).

It's also starting to feel normal to think and talk about what will happen after Mum dies. She's already given me instructions about which real estate agent I have to use to sell the house; she's told me about some donations she wants me to make; we've already done a partial wardrobe cull, and taken her excess clothes to the Fusion Wombat Wardrobe op shop, and we've talked about where her funeral will be held, and who will conduct it. So Mum's death is something that has become quite normal for me to be thinking or talking about.

We recently became clients of Catholic Community Services, who provide us with some domestic assistance every fortnight as well as visits from their Counselling and Advisory Service worker (and the fact that we managed to get into this service without having to wait at all is quite miraculous, as their books are officially closed to new clients, but that's another story).

This morning our regular cleaner came for the first time. She was lovely, and I think it will be good to have her around. As I was showing her where all the different cleaning equipment resides, and what we needed her to do around the house, we struck up a conversation. She asked me if I worked, and I told her I live in Victoria, and needed to take leave from work to be with Mum. Then she asked the fateful question:

"How long will you be here?"
Without thinking, I replied, "Until Mum dies."

When I saw the look on her face, I thought, "Oops." 

Although Mum had mentioned to her that she has pancreatic cancer from which she's not going to recover, I don't think our cleaner had made the connection that this meant Mum is going to die in the not-too-distant future.

This brought home to me the fact that the things in my world that are now 'normal' for me, are not necessarily normal for others. Sometimes I forget that this is so.

I'm still not quite sure what this will mean for me, but it is certainly something to think about.