Thursday, November 29, 2012

Central Station?

Today our next door neighbours popped in for a visit and commented that lately our house has resembled Central Station, with all the comings and goings of various people.

I suppose it takes someone from outside to point out the obvious, as it hadn't occurred to me that this was happening... and then I thought- today we had three lots of visitors (including said neighbours).

And overall this week:
Sunday- the neighbour from the other side of us dropped in
Monday- we had the podiatrist come
Tuesday - we had the cleaner
Today- we had the neighbours, a councillor/support worker, and a friend of mine who dropped in
Tomorrow- we have the nurse coming
And of course, I've been in and out a few times.

Hmmm... and this has been a relatively quiet week....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's been a hard day

Mum woke up in excruciating pain; I sat on the bed with her, rubbing her back as she groaned, for about ten minutes, waiting for the fentanyl to start to take effect.
It was a rugged start to the day.
I cried.

Our cleaner came this morning, and because Mum was a bit late waking up and getting going, I had to have a quick shower before the cleaner arrived, so didn't have time for a good cry in the shower.

Mum had a little mishap this morning, and just as I finished cleaning things up the phone rang. It was Bettan, the coordinator of the counselling and support service run by the agency that provides our cleaner (Catholic Community Services). Bettan often rings to see how we're going, and especially how I'm travelling in the role of carer. I told her what had been happening today, and she commented how strong she thinks I am to be caring for Mum so closely through all of what she's going through; and that in her experience this is pretty rare. She said she has seen so many people in similar situations to Mum struggling along on their own, even though they may have children. She said that she admired me for what I'm doing.
I cried.

After all this, I felt the need for a bit of space and a change of scenery, so after lunch I went to the local shopping centre. First stop Medicare office to make a claim, but some problems with the details of the paperwork, so will need to get the receipt reissued, with additional info on it, and then go back and try again in a couple of weeks. OK, not so good, so next stop- coffee shop.

Up to the Loft level, with thoughts of rich, sweet, chai latté (and something naughty but nice to nibble). After such expectations, I felt like crying when the latte arrived, and it was a bit on the tepid side. I probably should have said something, and asked them to make it hotter for me, but that would have been too hard.

Next, a lap of the ABC Shop, where I was about to spend too much money on some fun DVDs and other treats, when my phone rang. It was the doctor from Greenwich returning my call from earlier in the day. I told her what had been happening for Mum, and shared my suspicions about some of the new things going on.
And I cried. 

After a couple of other stops, including some grocery shopping, I called into the chemist, to collect a prescription for Mum. Our lovely pharmacist asked me how I was going, and how Mum was... and I cried.

Then I got home. Mum was comfortable and peaceful. I helped her bathe, and then had a very LARGE gin and tonic.

I am so weary, and hope that tomorrow is a little easier.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's Sunday afternoon...

It's a hot, Sydney, almost-summer Sunday afternoon (the thermometer reads 36C on the back deck). I have been to church this morning, and joyfully celebrated the reign of Christ, the climax of the liturgical year, and am now relaxing at home with my feet up, and the aircon on.

Will probably think of organising some lunch soon; for me, some sweet and sour pork and fried rice, left over from a takeaway treat, and for Mum (once I wake her up), some rice custard, brought by cousins who visited yesterday.

Mum has had a relatively good morning (and not only because I left her alone for a couple of hours when I went to church). She woke up with severe back pain (a daily thing now), but the new pain relief medicine gave her some relief after only 10 minutes, and after an hour, she said she suddenly realised she was pain free (which is much better than the other medication that takes 2 hours to kick in fully).

So, with all this, I'm on a bit of a high... feeling good about life in general; glad that, finally, something we have tried to help better manage Mum's breakthrough pain has actually worked; and am looking forward to a bit of snoozage later in the day. 

But before snoozage, I think I might go to the gym... something I haven't been able to do for over a week, due to my knees being a bit painful... and actually I'm quite looking forward to it... what a strange thought!

It must be a good day! Thanks be to God.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Another ranty post, this time about death, language and misconceptions of palliative care

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends (who is a minister in a different denomination, in a different state) posted a status update speaking of how he never uses euphemisms to speak of death and dying, because using terms like 'passed away', or 'passed' or 'she was called home' etc imply a phobia of speaking of death.

Now, I can relate to this in some ways, and I tend, in most cases, to call a spade a spade (to use another euphemism) and use the words 'death', 'died', 'dying' etc. I am also a strong advocate of truth-telling at funerals (ie not pretending that the deceased was a saint in all things, and if there was conflict or difficult relationships that need to be healed, to name them, in a pastorally sensitive way, and not pretend that this wasn't the case). 

My friend later commented that the rationale for his pronouncement was that 'Language has power, and the more mysterious or distant we make death, the harder grieving will be when we all go through it.' However, whilst I certainly agree that our society is not good at handling death, or grieving, I believe that there are some times when it's just not appropriate to be 'in-your-face' blunt in our language, when people might need some gentleness and TLC.

The ensuing comments on my friend's status basically teased out these ideas; touching on things like truth and 'telling it like it is', pastoral sensitivity etc. Whilst I didn't necessarily agree with all that was said, I was ok with this discussion... except for one comment (made by another minister, also from a different denomination to me).

Her comment was:
We remove death by sending people to hospital and further removing them to palliative care, so afraid is our society of the reality of death. It is a spiritual ignorance and weakness.

Now, I agree totally that society does not do death well. I remember when I was still in Hobart, there was an excellent seminar presented by a hospice care organisation that made this exact point, that people in our time and culture tend to die in hospital, where everything is sanitised and formal and removed, rather than at home (where it used to happen), and many people, (and especially children) are shielded from death. And in fact, most people today would never have seen a dead body (whereas in the past, it would be normal for a deceased person to be laid out in state in their home, and for friends and family to visit, and pay their respects).

So on the surface, I agreed with most of this comment... until she mentioned palliative care. Maybe it's just me being over-sensitive, but in this comment, it seems to me as if 'palliative care' is being used as a kind of 'dirty word', as if it's somehow a bad or shameful thing to engage palliative care for a person who is dying; that in doing this, a person is somehow shunted away, or 'further removed' from normal society.

Because I have experienced, at very close and personal quarters, what excellent palliative care is all about, I took objection to this comment. In fact, I became quite angry at what I believe is a serious misrepresentation of palliative care, and was planning to write a ranty response to it on my friend's Facebook page... but then I took a breath and decided to let it slide... at least in that context.

But, when I was writing my last blog post about the amazingness of the care Mum has received from Greenwich, the anger came back to me, and so I felt that this forum would be a more appropriate place for me to have a rant, and also, more seriously, to talk a bit about what palliative care actually is (as I think this person's comment above indicates- to me at least- a lack of understanding of the full nature of palliative care).

Firstly, to say that people receiving palliative care are 'further removed' from ... well... anything...  is so wrong. Mum has been receiving care from the Community Palliative Care Team at Greenwich Hospital for almost six months. For all of that time she has been living at home, having spent only one brief period of a week and a half as an inpatient at Greenwich Hospital, for symptom management.

When I was preparing to come to Sydney to care for Mum, she was still quite well. She was eating normally, was able to move around freely, cook, wash, drive and do just about everything else she normally would have done (except play tennis, something she had to give up some months previously). Because Mum was still so well, it hadn't occurred to me to engage any services like palliative care, or even the home nursing service. It was actually an old school friend of mine, who is an RN who works with the Northern Sydney Home Nursing Service, who suggested that I make a referral to their service, as it was not too early for Mum to begin developing a relationship with the service.

And interestingly, the suggestion to refer Mum to Greenwich came, not from her oncologist, but rather from the home nursing service, and I'm very grateful that they set that process in train for us.

The thing is, the moment Mum's illness was diagnosed as terminal, the focus of her medical care became palliation, especially after it was discovered that the chemotherapy did nothing to slow down the progression of the disease. Palliative care, as far as we have experienced it, is about maintaining some degree of quality of life, and freedom from pain and other nasty symptoms, as much as possible. It's a complete paradigm shift from the usual quest to find out why certain signs and symptoms are manifesting, and trying to 'fix' the cause.

So when Mum was an inpatient at Greenwich, for the whole time she was there, noone ever took her obs (blood pressure, pulse etc) which is usually done at least daily in a general hospital. The only thing that was important was if she was comfortable; was she in pain? were her bowels moving regularly? was the oxygen helping her to breathe more comfortably? etc.

One of the main symptoms Mum needed addressed whilst in hospital was extreme breathlessness whenever she exerted herself even slightly. As soon as she was admitted, and we told the nurse Mum was breathless, she was put onto oxygen via nasal prongs, which made a huge difference. The doctor said to us, that if we wanted to find out the root cause of Mum's breathlessness (possibly a clot on the lung, which apparently is common in pancreatic cancer), she would have to have a CT scan (at another hospital, as Greenwich didn't have that facility), and then if it was shown to be the case that her breathlessness was caused by a clot, she would need to have daily injections of blood thinners. This would probably not get rid of the clot, but just stop it from getting any bigger. OR, she could just continue on the oxygen because it made her feel better (and increased her blood oxygen saturation), and not worry about what the cause of the breathlessness was. After discussing the options, we chose to go only with the oxygen, and the doctor later told us that this was probably the better option for Mum's comfort and quality of life.

And that's pretty much the palliative care approach: focus on the symptoms, make the patient comfortable, and don't worry too much about trying to get to the bottom of the symptoms, unless it's likely that such an investigation might reveal something that can be dealt with relatively easily that will improve the patient's quality of life by relieving symptoms.

Whilst palliative care is about looking after people at the end of life, it's much more than just that. 

Mum's palliative care has involved working with a physiotherapist to strengthen her muscles; working with a dietician to try to stimulate her appetite and help me to provide food options that would be of best benefit to Mum; having a physio and OT assess our house for ease of mobility for Mum as she started to lose strength (resulting in the loan of a wheelie walker, shower chair, bed railing and raised toilet seat); conversations with social workers to ensure that we are aware of, and connected with all the services and help that we need; 24/7 access to nursing staff I can call for advice if Mum has problems with pain or other symptoms (and I have made use of that service a number of times). In addition to all this, there is the regular contact with the doctors from Greenwich, and since Mum has been housebound due to her dependence on oxygen, the doctor has made a home visit, and called me a number of times to discuss Mum's symptoms and medications.

All of this time, Mum has been living at home, where friends and relatives have been able to come and visit her, and phone her. She has been enjoying the sport on Foxtel (especially now that the cricket season has started) and she is able to sleep in the comfort of her own bed.

We are hoping that Mum will be able to stay at home for as long as possible, and the Community Palliative Care Team from Greenwich is supporting us well to help this to happen.

So from our experience, palliative care is definitely not a dirty word, but quite the opposite.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

All this, and psychic too?

I know I've sung (very loudly and tunefully) the praises of the Greenwich Hospital Community Palliative Care team before, but I think I need to add another verse to that song today.

All of the staff and volunteers who we have encountered have been amazing, and I couldn't possibly wish for better care for Mum than that which she's receiving from the team at Greenwich.

Since entering the care of the Greenwich team, Mum has been seen by five different doctors. Ruth was the first staff specialist that Mum saw in the day clinic, and each appointment we had with Ruth lasted at least an hour, as she talked to us about every aspect of Mum's health and care; especially the ubiquitous issue of pain meds vs bowel meds, and advising me how to balance and tweak these.

Ruth is now in Nepal, working for Médecins Sans Frontières with her husband, so Mum moved into the care of a different staff specialist, Kat. Like Ruth, Kat was in no hurry in the consultation we had with her in the clinic, and when Mum was admitted to Greenwich for symptom management, Kat visited her a number of times during the week and a half she was there. Mum's comments about both Ruth and Kat have always been along the lines of how nice they are and how lucky she is to have them as her doctors.

During her stay as a inpatient, Mum was also seen by two junior doctors, Brigitte, the registrar, and a resident (whose name I can't remember). One or both of them visited Mum every day she was in the hospital, and were also very nice.

Since Mum's discharge from hospital, she is housebound, due to her requirement for oxygen, so now rather than going into the clinic at Greenwich to see the doctor, the doctor has to come to us at home. Enter a new face, Trish, the registrar. Kat was planning to visit Mum during the second week after her discharge, but due to illness of some of the junior doctors, Kat was required to focus on hospital rounds, so asked Trish to visit Mum. Once again, Trish was lovely, and would have spent a good hour here with us, talking through some of the tricky issues Mum's been having with pain in the mornings, and we discussed some possible strategies to deal with that.

A few days later (Tuesday afternoon), Trish rang me to see how we were going with the new strategies (which didn't make much difference), so we talked about some other options for me to try.

When our community nurse came to see Mum today, I told him about the tweakages of Mum's medication dosages and times Trish had suggested to try to manage Mum's morning pain, and that after one or two days, this didn't seem to be working. He suggested I give it another day, and then if no better tomorrow morning, to ring Greenwich to talk some more about other options.

So I wrote in my diary to ring Greenwich tomorrow (not because I'm so busy I need to diarise such tasks, but because my memory for such details is pretty hopeless at the moment). Then this afternoon, the phone rang, and it was Trish, saying that she was returning my call from this morning... except I hadn't called ... but I took advantage of her serendipitous timing (saying that I was planning to call her tomorrow anyway... is she psychic? :-)

One of Mum's issues at the moment is that she is waking up in quite severe pain, and it takes a good two hours for the breakthrough pain medication to kick in. (Once it kicks in, Mum is pain free, but it's that dreadful two hours of unrelenting pain, which is such a horrible way for Mum to start the day). During our phone conversation today Trish mentioned that there is a particular medication that is much faster-acting than the meds Mum is currently on, but this medication is only available to palliative patients on special authority, and is not cheap. I told her cost is not a problem, and anything that would help is worth a try. She asked me about our local pharmacy, and whether they would be able to help us out by getting this medicine in (which of course they will, because they are amazing).

So at the end of our conversation, Trish said she would phone the pharmacy, and arrange to fax through the authority script for this medicine, so that they could get it in, and then to us, as soon as possible.

We are indeed blessed to be so well looked after.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Just call me Miss Bossy Boots

Yesterday, as Mum was snoozing in front of the TV, I noticed that her breathing suddenly became strange and strained, her eyes were  half open, and it was hard to rouse her. She eventually woke up, and told me that she'd been having a dream. A very strange dream. It starred me, and I was apparently shooting her. 

Of course, dreams are interesting things, and the human psyche that manufactures them; who can understand it? My guess is that I starred in Mum's dream because I am the primary figure in her life at the moment (and the naughty part of me suggested to her that what I was shooting her with in her dream was not bullets, but rather tablets, since I thrust more than 35 tablets upon her in the course of any given day. We both had a bit of a giggle at that).

But seriously, there are times when I feel like, at best a Miss Bossy Boots, and at worst, a heartless bully, as I continually force Mum to 'eat', to take tablets, to have showers, to get up and get dressed every day. After every 'meal', Mum has to suck an antifungal lozenge to combat the thrush infection that coats her tongue. She hates these lozenges, as they taste sickly sweet and she finds that hard to bear. So I feel heartless when, three times a day, I ask her, "are you going to have your sucky tablet?" in a tone of voice that will not take no for an answer.

She keeps reassuring me that she doesn't mind me reminding her to take these tablets, but still, I feel like a bully.

Tonight, as Mum was getting into bed, she said to me, "Don't think for a minute that I mind you telling me what to do, especially at this time of night, when I can't remember what I have to do next."

I love her so much, and she has put herself into my hands so completely; sometimes I'm at a loss to know how to respond to such unconditional trust.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More simple things

Sometimes the simplest things can brighten our spirits and bring a kind of healing and lightness.

Flowers are simple things whose beauty can have a surprising effect on so many things.
When Mum came home from hospital, one of her tennis ladies brought her some roses from her garden. They were lovely; two very full yellow blossoms, a dark crimson one (with the most amazing scent) and a pink bud, which opened the following day. 

It was lovely to have these roses in a little vase on top of the unit in the lounge room, where we could see them all the time. Mum kept commenting on how beautiful they were.

From the small to the huge- the jacaranda tree in the backyard is now in bloom, and is absolutely stunning. The fallen blossoms form a violet carpet on the grass, and the birds and water dragons love to frolic amongst them.

Then today, another friend of Mum's visited, and brought with her a bowl full of gardenia blossoms, which we now have in a floating bowl on the dining table. The white blossoms are pretty and their delicious scent permeates the whole house, and it's wonderful. The scent is a reminder that it's spring; and the warmer the weather, the stronger the fragrance. It is also a reminder of the care and kindness both of the friend who gave them to us, and all the others who care for us in so many ways.

I love flowers, and when I'm at home, am grateful to my predecessors for the work they put into the manse garden that allows me to have roses, fresias, irises and others in vases around the house at various times of the year. So it's been delightful to have some flowers in the house to brighten things up as Mum journeys through this dark time.

Monday, November 19, 2012

She cracks me up

One of the aids Mum has to make life a little easier for her is a railing that attaches to the side of her bed, so she can pull herself up, and lower herself down into bed. It's great, and she really appreciates the help it is to her. But having this railing on the side of the bed means that at night when I help Mum into bed, and she's lying down, I have to lean over the railing to kiss her goodnight. Sometimes it's a bit of a stretch, especially as I didn't inherit Mum's height, and I'm not exactly thin. On some nights, as I stretch up on tippy toes to lean over the rail, Mum has said things like, "Don't fall on me".

Tonight, she was holding onto the rail, and as I went to lean over, she moved her hand, so that it was on the section of rail I was about to lean over... then I changed my angle of attack to avoid squashing her hand, but she moved it too, and it was a bit like a wacky waltz for a minute, where I kept bumping into her hand, and Mum said, "you do get in the way, don't you?" at which point I just lost it. 

I got the giggles.

Which made it even more difficult to lean over the railing to kiss Mum, and I missed her mouth the first time. 

And I giggled some more.

But eventually I managed to kiss her goodnight, and she settled down to sleep. 

These are precious moments, that I'm so grateful to be able to share with Mum.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sometimes it really is the little things

Oh, beauty!

These are the words Mum greeted me with when I brought her cleaned dentures to her this morning. Her enthusiasm was rather disarming. Let me explain why.

After breakfast each morning, I clean Mum's teeth for her, and when I bring them back from the bathroom, I bring a little mug of bicarb mouthwash and a swab for her to freshen her mouth. The nurse who visits gave us a number of special oral swabs, that have heads made of stiff foam/sponge that is cut in a corrugated, 'zig-zag' pattern (especially helpful for scraping the coating off her tongue).

When the nurse gave us these swabs, she only had a few, and gave us a number of standard cotton swabs with them (like giant sized cotton buds), and so we have been using these cotton swabs since Mum got home from hospital. Yesterday when our new nurse came, I asked him if he had any more of the foam swabs that he could give us, as these do a much better job than the cotton ones. He gave us what he had (which was only a few) and then today dropped in a bundle of them so we won't run out in a hurry.

So this morning was the first day that I was able to bring Mum one of these better swabs for her morning mouth regime, and she showed her approval accordingly.

Oh, beauty!

I think I was rather surprised by her reaction, as she had been in quite a bit of pain when she woke up (which was a bit later today, at 8:30am), so I guess the pain med must have been starting to kick in by that stage, and she was quite chipper.

Another thing that has surprised me, is how much Mum has enjoyed looking at the photos from Grand Final day. When our neighbours decked our halls in red and white, I took a number of photos using my iPhone (and I was sure I would have blogged about Mum's beloved Swannies winning the Grand Final for her, complete with pictures of our red and white house, but it looks like I forgot to do that... BAD DAUGHTER! I'll include a couple of shots below). 

Mum had been asking me for a while to get the photos from my phone printed, so she could enjoy them and show them to friends without having to squint at the small screen of my phone. I finally did that this week, and Mum has been quite excited by how well the prints came out.

The house- decked out in its red and white on AFL Grand Final day.
After the match- Victory is sweet :-)
 The other night, she was poring over the prints, muttering about how great they came out, and thinking about which ones she wants me to print extras of to send to a niece in the US.

This morning, when I went in to organise to clean Mum's teeth, she was again going through the prints, and saying that she can't believe how well they came out. 

It was quite delightful to watch her alertness and excitement as she was doing this, reminding me that my Mum is still there, inside the shrinking shell of a body she inhabits. It's been interesting for me to reflect on the fact that it's often the little things, like the photos and the mouth swab, that bring out this truth. 

So the little things really do matter; we should never ignore them.

In the shower noone can see you cry

It's now two weeks since Mum came home from her brief stay at Greenwich Hospital, and we are settling into a routine, albeit one that is slightly different to how it was BH (before hospital).

Mum has always slept well, and still does; which is something that we are both extremely thankful for. However, since her time in hospital (AH), Mum has been regularly waking up with quite severe pain. Sometimes the pain is in her back, sometimes it radiates from the back around to her abdomen, sometimes it's sharp, stabbing pain when she breathes in, sometimes it's a colicky, gut pain, and sometimes it's a combination of two or more of these different kinds of pain.

The medication Mum takes for this breakthrough pain is quite effective, but the problem is that it usually takes up to 2 hours to fully kick in. So this makes the first hour or two of her day pretty rugged going.

Now those of you who know me well, will realise that I am Not A Morning Person, especially these days, as my sleep patterns have been mucked about a bit since being here in Sydney, and I seem to have become even more a 'creature of the night' than I normally am. So it's been getting difficult, as Mum is becoming more dependent on me to help her get up in the morning.

This morning, I woke up to the sound of Mum calling me. When I got into her room, I found her sitting on the side of her bed. She asked me for a pain pill, as she was in a lot of pain and didn't feel that she could get up and go to the bathroom without my help. She told me she'd been sitting there for about an hour, and had called me a number of times, but I didn't hear her at first because I was asleep.

As I looked down at her frail, wasted body, wracked with pain, and the simple, gentle way that she explained how long she'd been waiting for me to respond to her calls, I just melted inside. After getting her a pain pill, I helped her into the bathroom, and then to get dressed. 

One of the hardest things for me right now is to see the extent that Mum's body has wasted in the last few months. When I dress her in the mornings, and help her in the shower at night, there is no hiding the sharp angles of her bones, that are covered by skin and not much else; her stick-like arms and legs, and how small and pathetic she appears as she looks up at me with such simple and complete trust.

After Mum is dressed, she wheelie-walks herself to the loungeroom, where she parks herself in her chair, and after I ensure that she's comfortable and settled (with the TV on Fox Sports channel), I give her her pre-breakfast tablets and then have my shower before organising breakfast.

This morning, the first drops to hit the floor of the shower recess were not from the shower; they were my tears, as I considered what it must have been like for Mum to be sitting in pain on the side of her bed for an hour, calling me, and receiving no response. The shower is often my crying place after being confronted by the reality of Mum's situation; a refuge where I can let it all out without having to worry about Mum's or anyone else's reactions. As I have told many people in the course of my ministry, a good cry can be quite cathartic, and for me, crying in the shower is a bit like crying at the beach- there's already so much water around, that you don't notice a little extra.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The need to help

This week my thoughts are with a special friend.

S has lived with significant depression for many years now, and in the course of his illness has experienced just about every possible treatment, medication, and therapy modality for depression. He's had his ups and downs, and for a while was on a fairly even keel. However, in the last little while things have been gradually getting worse for him, and this week he commenced a regimen of ECT treatment (electro-convulsive therapy). It will take about three months before he's able to go back to work after the treatment.

Because I'm a natural born 'Rescuer', my default position is to want to do everything I can to 'help'. And in fact, it's not just that I want to help, but I need to help. (I suspect most people who work in one of the helping professions would probably resonate with this need). But the hard thing is that there is really nothing much I can do that would be helpful to S, apart from praying for him, and just being there for him (a bit like the friends of Job, who sat with him in silence).

When S initially told me about his depression (quite a number of years ago now), I discovered that my driving need to help can be a problem, because back then it caused me to make things more about me and my need to help rather than about S and his needs. I'd like to think that I am now older and wiser; that I learned something from that experience, which will equip me to be a better friend to S now, and also to others who are going through hard times.

Friday, November 09, 2012


Friendship is an interesting thing. I know I've said this before, but it never ceases to amaze me how God brings people into my life at different times, in different ways, and how significant those people can be.

Through the years, there have been quite a few people with whom I have had a special bond, and who, for the life of me, I really don't know how or why we should have become so close.

Back in the 80s, when I was working for Fusion, there was a couple of other Fusion workers who were based on the other side of the country. I can't remember how it came about, but they commenced supporting me financially, and we exchanged newsletters, and there was a bond. I cried when their son, who had cystic fibrosis, died at the age of 12 after an unsuccessful liver transplant. That was in 1989. We still keep in touch.

When I was living in Melbourne, I became friends with a man who worshipped at the same church I did, and lived a couple of blocks away in my street. I enjoyed his extravagant 'hospitality of the BBQ' on many occasions, and again a bond formed. He sold his house in Melbourne and moved to France to start a new life with the woman of his dreams, and when he finally proposed to her formally, and gave her the ring he'd had made specially, the first call from France to Australia that he made to share the good news was to me. After he'd shared the news with me, he said he would then call his family to tell them. He and his wife have stayed with me in Myrtleford when they have been in Australia and passing through. When I travelled to England and France, I stayed with them and had a wonderful time in the south of France (and am looking forward to a return visit). 

And now, I have connected with a new friend via Facebook. We kind of knew each other back when I was in Hobart (although neither of us can remember ever actually meeting, but Hobart is the kind of place where everyone seems to know each other, especially in the Church). There's a certain closeness that's developing between us, as he grapples with some significant issues in his life, and I am here in Sydney grappling with my mother's declining health. Our chats provide mutual support, as when we talk about his stuff, he gets the chance to share, and have a listening ear, and I get to talk to someone about something other than my own issues. When we talk about my stuff, I get the chance to share and be heard, and he gets the chance to talk to someone about something other than his stuff. It works well for both of us.

Tonight as we were chatting, he made a profound discovery about himself, and how some of his behaviours affect other significant people in his life. It was a great privilege to be part of that process. All I did was listen to him, and ask a few questions about what he was telling me- simple reflective listening, (via written word in live chat on the internet). The resultant personal discovery was something that neither of us was expecting.

In this specific incident, in all of these friendships, and in so many other things, I continue to find that God is indeed a God of surprises.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Bodily Functions 'R' Us

Given that Mum is on a quite substantial dose of serious pain medication, and the usual side effects of such medications, one of the common conversations in our house these days revolves around poo.

- have you done one today?
- what was it like?
- runny or hard?
- what colour was it?
- how much did you do?

Don't you wish you lived here?

With all this in mind, I laughed my head off when I saw this cartoon on Facebook the other day. I've been meaning to share it, but have only just gotten around to it. It kind of describes my life (or at least a significant part of it) at the moment :-)

My heart melts

Yesterday morning after breakfast, as I was taking Mum's dentures into the bathroom to clean them for her, she looked up at me with her big, brown eyes, and said, "You know, I do appreciate you doing this for me?"

"Yes Mum, I do know."

This morning, as I was doing the same, she asked me, "You don't mind doing this do you?"

"Of course not, Mum."

Such a small thing, 
       that makes her feel so much more comfortable, 
              and means a lot.

Monday, November 05, 2012

If that's Monday morning, I've had it.

Phew! A productively busy, busy, busy morning here at Chez Field.

The lovely lawnmowing man came this morning and so our back yard is looking very spiffy. The stamp of approval of the lovely lawn was given by a pair of water dragons, who came out to frolic on the grass for a bit. When the bigger one saw me watching, he dove into the nasturtiums, and then scrambled up the bottle brush tree, whilst his mate watched him.

All this activity was observed as I was back and forth from the laundry; first to put a load of towels etc into the washing machine, and then back into the bathroom with Ajax and a long handled scrubbing brush to scrub out the shower recess. (For some reason, even though I've asked our cleaner to scrub out the shower, she never seems to do it, and the tiles get a bit slippery underfoot. Whilst Mum now uses a shower chair, we are both a bit paranoid about the possibility of me slipping in the shower, because if I go down and break a leg or something, Mum will be really stuffed. So a good scrub was given).

Then I attacked Mum's bedroom, and stripped the bed, remade it with fresh sheets (a challenge at the best of times, but even moreso now with the mobility aid bar attached to the bed), and now the first load of washing is out, and the sheets are on. My bed can wait for another day.

All in all, I seem to have worked up quite a sweat... very uncharacteristic for a Monday, which is usually my 'day off', and I'd often still be abed at this time of the morning. So now, time to sit down (or more accurately, flop) and put my mind to the Sudoku in yesterday's paper.

Mum is having a pretty good day so far. After a bit of back pain this morning, she is now pain free, enjoyed a substantial (for her) breakfast, and her innards seem to be working well. So the next step is to think about what I can tempt her with for lunch. It never stops, really.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


Strong Language Advisory: 
Warning- the following blog post is an angry rant, and contains strong language, including the 'F-bomb' and various crass and crude turns of phrase. If you have a problem with that, don't read on. I make no apologies. You have been warned.

After a steady decline for a couple of weeks, Mum went into hospital on Monday of last week, for some symptom management, and will be coming home tomorrow morning. During this time, I took the opportunity to go home to Myrtleford for a break, as I mentioned in an earlier post. I returned to Sydney on Monday evening, and of course went straight to the hospital. It was great to see Mum looking so bright :-)

Tuesday morning, as I was having breakfast and preparing to go to the hospital, the phone rang. It was one of my cousins. I can't remember the last time I would have seen or heard from him (and I'm talking decades here), and likewise, Mum (who is much more diligent in keeping up with family than I am) also hasn't had any contact with him in ages. Both of his siblings have been in pretty regular contact with Mum over the years, and especially since she's been sick, but not him.

So imagine my surprise to answer the phone and find myself speaking to this cousin, but not only that, but that he had the temerity to commence the conversation with: 
"I came to visit on Saturday, but nobody was home!" 
I replied with: "Yes, Mum is in hospital, and I went home for a few days' break."

At this point, things started to feel a bit surreal.
"Yes, I found that out from the neighbour."

"Well, why didn't you ring before coming all that way, to check that there would be someone home?" 

"I was just concerned about my aunty, and wanted to see her".

(This cousin lives in Mt Druitt, which is quite a hike from North Ryde, and he seemed somewhat annoyed that he had made the trip in vain, as if it was somehow our fault that we weren't home when he came. I found out later, from talking to his brother, that he had apparently sat in his car outside our house for an hour and a half, thinking we might have been out shopping or something).

At this point I felt like screaming at him, "How dare you blame me for your own fucking stupidity?! You haven't been in touch with Mum for so many years, and now suddenly you decide that because she's dying, you want to see her, and don't even have the fucking decency to check with us that it would be convenient for you to visit, knowing how sick she is!? What kind of person travels that kind of distance to visit someone without even contacting them to say they're coming? That's just rude. Plain fucking rude. And now, you're annoyed with me?!?!?!" *

(And even if we had been home, given how Mum was feeling before she went into hospital, there was a good chance she wouldn't have wanted to see him - and he wouldn't have been the first person that I've had to turn away from the door because Mum wasn't up to visitors).

It was almost as if he was wanting to be able to make a big deal out of the fact that he'd travelled so far to visit his dear old aunty... but in my dark place, I wanted to compete with him in this pissing competition he created. ("You want me to be impressed that you drove for an hour or so to visit Mum? Well, I've put my whole life on hold for six months or more, and moved myself interstate so I can be here to care for her and stand by helplessly and watch her die slowly and painfully. So I win. My dick is bigger than yours, and I'm not even a man."**)

This came hot on the heels of a phone message that was waiting for me the previous night, from a different cousin, saying how concerned she is for 'Aunty'. She and her husband had been to visit Mum not long after her diagnosis, but Mum hadn't heard from them since, and has commented on her puzzlement at this a number of times. So this was also a bit of a bolt out of the blue.

For a while now, Mum has been making dark mutterings about how all these relatives that have never bothered to be in touch normally, have suddenly been all over her now that she's sick; and it seems to me that she resents that a bit. I had always tried to talk Mum through this resentment, and point out that it's natural that they would want to be in touch and try to express support for her under the circumstances. 

However, after these two phone interactions, I have also started to feel angry and resentful, because it feels like these two cousins are expecting Mum and I to be at their convenience; as if it's our role to meet their needs to feel good about themselves because they've 'made the effort to see poor, sick Aunty'. 

I'm angry; really angry. And now I feel guilty about feeling angry and resentful (don't you wish you were inside my head right now? ;-). 

Am I a bitch? Am I being unreasonable to judge so harshly, and to not want to make allowances for the feelings and circumstances of these cousins? Is it unreasonable for me to expect them to realise that Mum and I already have enough to deal with, and they should be supporting us, and not the other way round?

I guess these are the questions that will cheat me out of sleep in the next little while.

Families are funny animals, that sadly, don't always bring out the best in us.

OK, angry, sweary rant is now over, and we return you to normal transmission.

* Of course, I didn't say any of this... but really wanted to. 
** Again, I didn't, and would never, say this, but by golly it felt cathartically good to write it.