Sunday, 28 August 2016

Mooching around Chinatown

On my walk today I as usual went down the hill at the entrance to the Pyrmont Bridge and then turned right underneath the structure, heading down alongside the tourist restaurants and Cockle Bay, passing under the motorway overpasses, and alongside the shiny new office buildings to Liverpool Street, where I crossed Harbour Street on the pedestrian bridge. I entered Chinatown at the north end of Dixon Street and headed to the Taiwanese noodle shop in one of the arcades on the other side of Goulburn Street.

They found a table for me and I ordered some seafood mix noodles then pulled out my mobile and started to look at Facebook while I waited for the meal to arrive. The waitress came back with my change in a rectangular blue plastic tray and I put it away in my wallet. A middle-aged, slight and slim, Chinese woman sat down in the seat next to mine but after about five minutes she moved away or left the restaurant. She probably thought a big, ungainly foreigner would make a mess of his soup. But a young Chinese woman soon sat down in the seat the other woman had vacated, and she ordered. Strangely, her food came before mine but I didn't say anything; it wasn't worth remarking on since it was a nice Sunday and I didn't want to make a fuss.

I finished my noodles after they arrived and then got up and left the restaurant, walking left down the rest of Dixon Street to where the tram passes. I crossed with the green light and waited on the central island for the tram to go past on its way toward Dulwich Hill. Then I walked across and around the corner into Thomas Street, then took a right at the entrance to Paddy's Markets into Ultimo Road, I went all the way down past the UTS buildings to Harris Street and waited at the lights for the signal to turn green, then turned right and north into the main thoroughfare.

Harris Street is a busy, ugly road but with gentrification there are a lot more cafes and offices along its length, despite the busyness of the main connections to the Western Distributor. So there are always pedestrians on it even though it's hardly the most salubrious of thoroughfares in the city. Frankly it could do with a bit of cleaning up. The big overpass where the approaches to Anzac Bridge lie above the street at Fig Street, where traffic comes heavily from all directions, including off the WD, is a dark and terrible place where you can imagine people getting into trouble. All sorts of satanic things. Dropped lollies. Spilled Cokes. Scattered fragments of pizza. A heel caught in a grate.

But seriously, the whole business of the Anzac Bridge is a bit of an eyesore when you get up close to it. It's alright when you're underneath it in a car moving along past the Fish Market and you can see the concrete expanses fretted away into the distance across the arm of the harbour where the bridge sits. And it's ok from Pyrmont up near John Street - close to the casino - where you can look down the street and see the towers of the bridge sitting like beacons on the horizon through the jumble of highrise apartment buildings standing there. But at Fig Street you're only a few steps away from death. I was up there a couple of days ago coming home and a little group of suburbanites navigating their way toward the attractions of Darling Harbour were crossing the street dutifully. "Who's our button pusher," chimed the elderly woman, and immediately a young girl with Down syndrome rushed up and pressed the signal button. But when we got to the next set of lights, at Fig Street, the elderly woman was holding onto the girl fiercely with both hands, evidently worried about the streams of roaring traffic and all the pressing sounds of the overpass.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Feeling more positive

Today I went for a walk again, down through Darling Harbour and into Chinatown, then back up Harris Street home. It had been a few days since I had gone for a walk due to the rain. We had some days of light rain - and some days of heavy rain as well - here in Sydney and I stayed inside on those days. I was also waiting for a phone call to bring me into the city to sign some papers. So today I felt really invigorated as I stretched my legs in the streets walking down on my usual route.

I had also been reading the third installment of Knausgaard, which is about his childhood. I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in the way the series is taking. I so much enjoy Knausgaard's recounting of his adult life. There's something so terrible about his father in his childhood that makes you want to turn away. It fills me with a kind of despair.

Not that I am comparing my childhood with Knausgaard's, but I also had a mixed relationship with my father. He was also, like Knausgaard's father, of short temper. And he let you know how he was feeling. I remember terrible anger suddenly flashing in his black eyes when we would be doing something together and I did the wrong thing. I broke the bit off a drill once and had to apologise profusely for the error, not that I meant to do it. But that was his way. He was of that older generation who meted out punishment seemingly - from the child's point of view - at random.

In general I am feeling much more optimistic than I was after mum died. In those first days and weeks there was a heavy pall over everything that would not lift. Now I feel sometimes even light and happy - a happiness that can come just from seeing the faces of different people in the street - for apparently no reason at all. I think it is the exercise that is making me feel more collected, more seated in things, and even sometimes actually happy. It is making a difference in my life. I am grateful for the nagging friends who got me out of bed and onto my feet. Here I am these days stamping the pavement in the sun and even when the clouds are threatening rain. I can sometimes feel the spatter of wetness from above as the rain falls from the sky.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Book review: Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle vol. 2, A Man in Love (2013)

In the first volume of Knausgaard's multi-volume series we learnt about the author's father, and the book ends with the man's funeral, by which time the author is a grown man. In the second volume of the series, A Man in Love, Knausgaard says that his father was one of the two biggest influences on his life. The other major influence being something to do with his character - "the fact that I had never belonged anywhere" - and is something that is singularly less objective and so is less replete with reality.

Now, in this book, we learn about Knausgaard's romance and marriage and subsequently about his small children: there is Vanja first, then Heidi, then John. Coming second in the series you might assume that getting married and having children was a major influence on the author's life, but the book specifically tells us that this was not so.

Nevertheless, the children do get their own installment in the Knausgaard series. It is written in that same relaxing, highly moderated novelistic style that we became familiar with in the first volume. There are no surprises. Nothing sticks out. The tone is even and modulated throughout to suit the reader's ear. There are a few points of tonic moment - such as when Karl Ove breaks his collar bone, near the end of the book - but these are deftly massaged back into the even membrane of the novel so that it will continue to give out a reliable, seamless tone when struck by the reader's glance.

Knausgaard is reliable even when he is not always particularly original - see his word paintings of the landscape, which he says he loves so much, for example - or poetic. The language however has this tightness but it is a feeling of rightness so that the sound evoked by it is suited to the way we have come to expect throughout. And this is his achievement: to have developed a consistency of language that will allow him to communicate any conceivable event to the reader without upsetting the apple cart. Which is why people can effortlessly refer to "the Knausgaard series" without even once uttering the undiplomatic title, 'My Struggle'. We are familiar with him, and protective and loyal. We might find a theme that he develops boring or overdone but we nevertheless keep on reading to the end because after all, what else are you going to do? It's so palatable. Comfortable. Tasty.

Although you do wonder how his wife sees his disquisitions on their matrimonial spats - events that happen in the book with a comfortable frequency. (He loves his readers more than he loves his wife; see how he keeps on working to satisfy our curiosity at her expense?) Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. If so, Karl Ove is indisputably the horse drawing it all onward. The same passivity that enables him to do more than his fair share of housework all the while that he is writing his novel enables him to write the novel in this reliable and pleasant way. His equanimity is just another sign of his dutiful and obliging nature. We are so lucky to have Karl Ove.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Miss mum but have been walking

I've been walking for over an hour each day for more than the past week. I also got a haircut, as you can probably see. The walking means I feel generally better once I get home, although I am still waking up lateish and still drinking wine in the afternoons. Nevertheless I am not feeling as depressed as I was before.

In the evening when I go to bed I still read Knausgaard. I tried reading some of his second book in the series after lunch today but it didn't feel right. I preferred to turn over and get some sleep in the early afternoon. And in fact the soporific effect of Knausgaard cannot be discounted even for those who are in the best of spirits. His highly modulated, long novels of personal experience tend to make you feel like you need to yawn, pull up the covers, and turn out the light. They're comfortable and comforting.

I am reminded of the time, in 2014, when I was reading books on and by Parisians. I wanted to find the ultimate book of the flaneur des rues in the city of lights. I remember reading book after book that I sourced online or through bookshops - even taking some special trips from the Coast to Brisbane to find the right choice - but never finding the exact book that would bring on the lazy sensation I have nowadays when I pick up the Kindle and tap on to the pages of Knausgaard. Or the time when I was reading only spy thrillers and crime thrillers, always hoping for that ideal book that would chew up the hours as I paced myself to turn through the pages in an effort to reach the end.

Reading for me is an index of mental health. The ability in the middle of the day to put a stop to the constant appeal of social media and take refuge within the pages of a book shows, for me, a healthy mind, one in balance with the world. When you cannot read you tend to go for the chardonnay and sit with busy eyes in front of the computer, watching the stream of messages go past. I don't know what it's like for you, but that's what it's like for me. Social media distracts, that's its main reason for being. Reading a book is a far more engaged form of participation where you are forced to concentrate for long periods of time, and delay the instant gratification of the tweet or the post in the News Feed.

What about you? How do you feel about the relative uses, or merits, of books and social media? I'm not talking here about news stories, magazine articles, blogposts, or journal features, but about real-life books that weigh in at on or around 70,000 words. What kind of future do books have when our lives are full of memories of dead mothers and likewise full of the blandishments of Twitter? 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Still missing mum terribly

It's been over a month now since mum passed away and I still can't shake the blues. Yes, I know that is a rather poetic way of expressing myself. What I really mean is that I'm still grieving for her. I just don't know what to do with myself. I get up now even later than before, at around 11am, and make coffee then sit down at the computer and turn it on. The reliable stream of social media temporarily nullifies the sense of nothingness that usually envelops me. I watch the messages fly past. To establish contact however usually takes some time and it all just feels that it's not worth the effort, so I don't really bother.

I might add a message here or there half in the hope someone might respond but always sure that it's pointless.

The morning creeps on and then I go out to get something to eat at midday or thereabouts. I might go to the sandwich shop to get a chicken schnitzel roll, or I might go to the sushi shop for a couple of packages of sushi. Either way, lunch is soon over and I am soon enough back at a loose end. If I am feeling really creative (maybe the warmth in the sunshine today provoked those creative abilities in me, you never know) I might do a blogpost talking about how depressed I'm feeling. This will be a highlight of the morning, but only if I'm so inclined. Usually straight after lunch I go back to bed. Or like yesterday I might crack open the wine and start drinking before 1pm comes around.

(Starting too early has its drawbacks, because you get so sloshed by about 3.30pm that you have to go to bed to sleep it off. Much wiser to pace it and start drinking at around 3pm, then you can get to dinner time - usually around 5.30pm - without having to resort to the mattress for relief. You can only take so much punishment, after all. You just get so stonkered if you start straight after lunch that you can't carry on until it's time to break for dinner.)

In the evenings after dinner I will watch the news. It will be something like 6pm ABC News 24, 6.30pm SBS World News, 7pm ABC News. Then whatever the evening throws up (I mean on TV haha). Mostly I will alternate between social media and the couch, depending on the quality of the viewing material, but except for Monday night it's actually pretty ordinary fare. Monday is good; you have Australian Story then 4 Corners, then Media Watch and then Q and A. Only on Mondays do I make it long enough to watch Lateline on the TV.

Then shower and bed, with a 30-minute break to read before dropping off into oblivion. That's the blessed state! Oblivion. When you don't have to think or worry about what to do or feel crap because of this deep sadness that envelops you in its drowsy clasp. This sense of loss. I wonder if mum ever thought about what it would be like for me after she went. Not while she was alive. She was too upbeat for that. But it's very true: my mother was a very positive person usually - except for those weeks after dad died in 2011 when she refused to get out of bed at the usual time. Anyway she would have commiserated with me briefly and reflected on that period in her own life, but she would have quickly passed over this problem to focus her attention on something else. Something full of life. Something alive. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Book review: Inexperience and Other Stories, Anthony Macris (2016)

This book of early fiction by this Australian author contains many subtle beauties. The title story, which takes up most of the space in this collection, recounts a trip to Europe by the narrator and Carol, his girlfriend. They are Australians trying to escape the mundanity of suburban existence. They are very young and inexperienced.

In Paris they meet a number of different people whose attitudes to life tell us a lot about who our protagonists are. These are amusing scenes full of complex ideas. In fact, the entire story constitutes a sophisticated inquiry into the nature of being. Who am I, the protagonists seem always to be asking. Who are you?

It seems like ages ago since those days. We all survive this kind of existence at one point in our lives or another. We strive to make sense not only of what we see around us, but of our very selves, and this striving has something heroic and beautiful about it. There is something elemental about the lives Macris' two protagonists live as they make their way in foreign countries. Strangely, we miss out on two years of the narrator's life in the UK, and after Paris suddenly he is on a plane back to Sydney. In Thailand he decides not to leave the plane, and sits staring out through the window at the night. Then suddenly the story takes us to the Bankok stopover on the "out" trip.

It's a short chapter. The narrator and Carol are sitting in a cheap restaurant in a shopping centre and they are surrounded by the sounds and smells of a strange place. They are happy in a way that perhaps they will never be again. There is something so evocative about this short chapter, with its stacks of cheap T-shirts and its sticky plastic table cloth. In this interim zone between home and abroad, the narrator and Carol find their natural environment and a kind of settlement that will possibly elude them ever afterward.

For while the notion of "Australianness" is important in the book it is essentially a story about this relationship between two people. When Carol starts to withdraw, the narrator feels things start to slip out of his control. The rest of the journey will be more problematic than the stopover in Bangkok on the way "out". The narrator is about to learn something important about himself.

The title story is long but wonderful in strange ways, and the other stories each also have things to offer the reader. There's 'The Nest-Egg', a Dostoyevskian contemplation on mortality that takes the reader on a thrilling ride through modern consumer culture. Then there's a diptich, 'The Triumph of the Will' and 'The Quiet Achiever', which focus on a man living in the suburbs of one of Australia's big cities, and tracks his progress from proprietor of a failing business to being a resident in an institution. It is not a pretty story, but again Macris is in such cool control of his material that you are entertained past worrying about the fate of the main character.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Preparing to inter mum's remains

The next phase in the process of saying farewell to mum involves placing her ashes in a final resting place. To that end I got in touch with the rectory at the parish of St Peter's in Watsons Bay, where my grandmother - my mother's mother-in-law - was interred back in the nineties after she died. It was a bit difficult getting in touch with St Peter's at first because their office is only occasionally staffed, but I at least had the phone number from the funeral directors as I had spoken to them about using St Peter's on a number of occasions when we were arranging mum's funeral.

Once I got in touch with the parish office we started to discuss how to inter mum, and to this end they sent me an email outlining the different options in terms of the location of the requisite niche, and how to complete details for the plaque that goes on its outside.

In the meantime I drove up to the cemetery where mum's remains had been cremated and picked up her ashes. I did that yesterday during the day when the traffic was not so bad, and it only took me an hour or so to do. The people there were very formal and a bit cold, but I suppose when it comes to doing something as weighty as handing over a container of human remains you have to be thorough. They needed my drivers license to start with and they also asked me what I planned to do with the ashes - since I was not using their facilities to put them to their final place of rest - and so I told them what our plans were.

My brother had agreed to pay for the interment since it had been his idea to use St Peters, he said, and I did not disagree. I had already sent my idea about what should go on the inscription for the plaque to him and he came back with some emendations, which I included in the final draft. This I scanned into the computer and attached to the email I was sending to St Peter's to formalise the arrangements. I will now wait until next week when the parish office gets back to me with instructions for the next steps to take to fix the plans.

St Peter's columbarium - where people's ashes are interred in brick walls erected in a garden-like setting for the purpose - is a sweet little locality that you can find behind the church by going down a path and some steps. There are water features, trees, flowers, rocks and plants. People have been using the columbarium to put their relative's ashes to rest for as long as I can remember - we grew up in Watsons Bay, my brother and I - and the place was even for us boys then sometimes a place of resort in our wanderings around the area on weekends. The church can be found not far from The Gap with its old-growth scrubland bush and its tram cutting, now unused, sadly. I went to kindergarten at St Peter's, was married there, and we held granny's funeral there too. It is in a real way part of the family story.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Starting to feel more normal

I've been posting from time to time about how I feel now that mum has gone. The problem of what to do in the mornings still exists but I have started to feel a bit more normal on and off over the last day or so. It's a big change in my feelings of wellbeing and for me clearly signals a new era in the process of recovery since mum passed away on the first day of the month.

It's hard to identify just what has changed over the past day or so. There is no specific cause that I can unambiguously put my finger on apart from the fact that probate on the will is now progressing. I had some conversations with my brother about the will and he seems to be satisfied with the way things turned out. That might have something to do with it, but it's uncertain because the change has been so dramatic. As for what exactly has changed, again it's hard to put my finger on it but the fact is that I don't have that crushing feeling of depression any more, a feeling that nothing was right in the world and that I could not tolerate just to be.

Being comfortable with yourself is important because a lot of other things are predicated on your ability to feel comfortable in your own skin. If you cannot feel normal then you tend to seek ways to alleviate the discomfort, and you might for example turn to artificial substances - such as alcohol, as has been true in my case - to bring you back to a feeling of normalcy. This has obvious disadvantages, especially long-term, as you then risk becoming dependent on such measures in order to maintain the feel of normalcy. Substance abuse can have such undramatic and unsurprising origins as this, it has to always be remembered.

So I feel normal walking down the passageway in the apartment between rooms. And I feel normal in the mornings when I sit in front of the computer with the TV on in the background. There is a sense of hope, a sense that things can be managed and even, perhaps, enjoyed. This sense of wellbeing is essential for me to feel normal. It might be the same for you, I cannot say, but it certainly is the way it is for me. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Still missing mum

The last post from me was on Saturday. Weekends are hardest, as I mentioned in that post, because on those days ABC News 24 only runs every 30 minutes, with reruns of existing programming filling in the gaps. This means that the ABC runs on mere fumes during weekends compared to weekdays. For neurasthenics like me - trying to cope with grief - this is a source of discomfort. I rely on the TV to get me through the afternoon and evening.

Usually I wake up at around 10am. I leave it as late as possible, anyway. There's no point in getting up earlier because even if I do the temptation will be to go back to bed straight away. So I snooze through the early morning and into mid-morning until I am satisfied that I have occupied as much time as possible in this relatively pain-free manner. Sleep is the preferred solution for those who are coping with a crisis like grief.

And I have an overwhelming desire to talk with people about mum. Especially as she was in those last weeks when the infections were becoming overwhelming. Those days when I would visit every day, instead of every two or three days, because I knew the time was limited. I knew that there was not much time left for mum. I could sense it even though noone told me anything like that. It was my intuition - this approach of the final crisis out of the minor crises of recent weeks - and it guided me in my actions during those last weeks. I stopped buying food because I was spending so much time visiting mum, and started eating at restaurants in the evenings. I still haven't gone back to regularly buying food again, except for bread and milk, which I need for breakfasts.

Outside the window the scaffolding is still in place. The workmen have been through with their drills and other equipment, preparing the balcony to receive its new balustrade. The construction crews have been moving through doing their various tasks. They have drilled holes to receive the new balustrade's upright supports. Right now the balcony is empty, but at night I still listen for intruders when I wake up in sleep because my brain is restless and unquiet. There have been no intruders of course, but the fears remain after the lights go out. I will be glad when they have packed up their tools and taken away the scaffolding so things can get back to normal. It's not the sounds they make so much as the anxiety the scaffolding creates, which, late at night, cannot be helped.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Weekends at home

Because of the way TV programming is organised, weekends at home are more challenging than weekdays. On weekdays there is a whole newsroom full of staff at the ABC producing the programming for ABC News 24 - the 24-hour TV news station of the public broadcaster - but on weekends they function on a reduced staff so they fill the remainder of the time available with reruns from the past week. Which is not as fun as wall-to-wall news. What do they think, that the news stops on weekends? People stop getting into trouble and having car crashes? What is it about weekends that makes the TV so boring?

I went up the road to have a bowl of ramen for lunch after sleeping for most of the morning. The ramen was good but when I get home I want to sit down with the TV on and drink wine and watch social media. That's what I do in the afternoons. It's like a ritual for me now - the TV on in the background with the browser windows open at Facebook, Twitter and TweetDeck, Google Plus and LinkedIn etcetera. There are a lot of windows open at my pages.

The other problem with the TV is that the volume is really low. Even when I turn the volume up to 100% it's still low because it needs to be fixed. I can't take the TV to the repair shop however because it's too heavy for one person to carry. So I have to buy a new one. Maybe when things have settled following the death of my mother I can think about spending a bit of cash on a new TV. Right now is not a good time.

The other thing that has happened is that the death certificate came through from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. This means that my lawyer can get on with the job of getting probate for my mother's will. One of the big ticket items that has to be looked after when someone dies. In the meantime I will sit here and watch TV and drink wine. Some people have very thoughtfully offered to do something together in this period of mourning, but I find it all a bit challenging. Going out, I mean. It's so much simpler to just stay at home and engage on social media like the mad thing that I am.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Still in a holding pattern ... but improving

Here I am with ABC News 24 on in the background looking after my social media accounts. My usual situation in the afternoons. It's where I go to get away from things, helped by a bottle or two of chardonnay. You can see Malcolm Turnbull here giving his press conference on the occasion of the announcement of the government's new ministry. Malcolm couldn't make it over to my place this afternoon because of prior engagements, so I had to do with watching him on TV. I'm so amusing.

It has been a week since mum's funeral. When I look back on the funeral it seems like such a little thing to celebrate - is that the best word? - an entire life. Perhaps more fittingly I have been going back over my blogposts - which started on the subject of mum in November 2014 - to read them anew. What I find is something full of life and tenderness. I am touched by the bigness that small details occupied in my life on the subject of mum. Little things like making lunch at the right time so that we could always have dinner at the same time in the evenings.

Of course it was when I was living with mum up on the Coast that I started to drink wine in the late afternoons, and on into the evenings. I would rock on over to mum's place at around 4pm or 4.30pm in readiness for preparing the evening meal. I remember what I cooked, too. There were the favourites like chicken wings roasted in the oven. Steak, mashed potatoes and boiled vegetables (the zucchini put on last because it didn't take as long to cook as the carrots). Or a nice roast beef with roast potatoes and pumpkin, served up with gravy made from the juices left in the baking tray.

I would drink while preparing the meal and while eating it too, then I would put a bottle of wine in the bag I had brought for the purpose, and carry it home to drink further into the evening, as I sat in front of the computer with the TV on in the background. Watching TV obliquely with social media to the fore, and with wine to accompany the mix, has become something of a habit.

And I remember those day trips down to Brisbane on the motorway from the Coast. About 2 hours driving outside rush hour, just a quick jaunt to the gallery to have a look at what was on in the art world. Two galleries in fact, since they built MOMA next door the the state gallery. And a sandwich for lunch at the cafe outside the state library.

Today I walked up to the post office to pick up the box of coffee that they had tried to deliver earlier on in the day. Somehow I had missed the buzzer on the front door. Sleeping probably. When I wake up in the mornings the day seems so lifeless and blank. I don't know what to do with myself, so I go back to bed to snooze through the morning if I can. If I cannot then I get up and switch on the TV and go back to social media and wait until it's lunchtime.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Returning a wedding ring to the nursing home

The first time mum went into hospital in Sydney I took off her wedding ring and put it in my pocket because there were signs up in the hospital about protecting valuables. I took it home and put it in a drawer in my bedroom. But when mum had been sent back to the nursing home and I had gone up to visit her again I noticed that she was again wearing a wedding ring. I asked her about it and she said it was hers. I took it off her hand and gave it to the staff. However another wedding ring appeared in due course and so eventually I gave up trying to wean mum off the habit of wearing them.

I never worked out where she got the wedding rings from. Had she got up in the middle of the night and wandered into someone else's room? Had someone given her the new rings? Was she swapping them for something else of value? The puzzle remains a puzzle to this day. I asked the staff about it again today when I took this final wedding ring - which the funeral directors had taken off mum's hand after her death - back to the nursing home but they didn't know the answer either. Some things can never be known, like what old people do with their jewellery in nursing homes. No doubt mum had simply looked at her hand, thought to herself that she needed a wedding ring on it, and had acquired one. Somehow.

I drove up to the nursing home this morning along the normal route. It was a leisurely drive. The car seemed to know instinctively where to go, which lanes to change into, and when to indicate to turn or change lanes. I just sat at the wheel and let things take their course, seemingly in auto-pilot. On the way back to the motorway I stopped at the Vietnamese bakery and bought a sausage roll and a pork roll. I ate them in the car, which turned out to be a bit of a risk because somehow I wiped my right eye with a finger that had touched some chili and it started to water furiously as I was driving down the Warringah Freeway. But I made it home safe in the end listening to the radio as per normal.

Later, I discovered there were some things missing from the box of photos - including an oil painting by Barbara Cameron and some old 19th century hymnals - and I phoned the nursing home to ask where they might be. They said they would get back to me in a few days.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Book review: Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle vol. 1, A Death in the Family (2012)

When my mother was in the hospital dying recently I read to her from this book - a part of the narrative where Karl Ove and his brother are cleaning their grandmother's house following the death of their father - and, also later, when she was in the nursing home I read from the book again. On the day of mum's funeral I finished reading this volume in the series. But these things are of no material interest in themselves. I include them only for autobiographical reasons.

Knausgaard has successfully made an industry out of his own life. He has, it is said, alienated a large group of people including certain members of his own family. In the event you wonder if it was worth it. The sales of the books - five have been translated and six written - would suggest it certainly was.

And people talk about Knausgaard because his success is something of a publishing phenomenon. So everyone has their opinion about him. If he is boring, he is still compelling. That is one thing I have heard people say. For myself, I almost stopped early on with this volume in the series because I feared the incipient violence of the father - I shun violence wherever I see it - but a friend suggested that I would enjoy the book. And I did enjoy it. I especially found the modulated tone of the novel a relief. Here there are no sudden rises in the tenor of the writing to disturb you. Everything is at a steady, predictable level, and it is restful to read.

Knausgaard is a clever writer who also embellishes his prose with accurate descriptions of things as varied as the way the sky looks over a town in the summer, or the way a seatbelt is fastened to its clasp. He is not afraid of any challenge, and you feel assured that he will carry you along on the platform of his narrative in a leisurely and steady pace until you reach the end. He is nothing if not stable. Which is sort of nice as there is so much bruising writing around these days. I start a lot of books and I finish a lot fewer. Mostly only books that I finish get reviewed here.

The death in the family is the death, of course, of Karl Ove's father, and most of the story centres around Karl Ove's youth or the point in his life - much later chronologically - when he buries the man. Many young people - myself included - complained (and complain) about their fathers, of course, so the trope is not unexpected. Karl Ove is also just a little bit younger than me so his cultural references are familiar to someone of my age reading the book. So there is a lot in those early parts that is close to home. Although Karl Ove seems to maintain his love of soccer into middle age, whereas I largely abandoned any interest in sport as soon as I became an adult.

All these things are highly personal, and it is true that you do develop a personal relationship with the author/main character, Karl Ove. The way he grows on you is gradual, through the general accrual of detail that goes to make up the narrative. He grows on you bit by bit until you have formed a distinct opinion about him in your mind. You like these parts about his character but you regret that he seems to have certain failings too. But he gets under your skin. The link between the author and the reader is intimate. It's something that will stay with you for a long time. It's something that only literature can make happen. It is its own type of magic.

Monday, 11 July 2016

The day of the funeral

Someone kindly gave me a bunch of white carnations for the funeral today. I brought them home and put them in water. There were ten people attending the short service, which only took about 30 minutes, and who later came next door in the funeral home to have sandwiches and sausage rolls and small, coconut-filled cakes. There were also scones with jam and fresh cream. There were jugs of fresh juice and cups for coffee.

Two people stood up to give an account of their memories of mum - myself and G, mum's housekeeper - and there were also some words from mum's niece who is currently on the road with her family crossing central Australia in a car. I spoke extempore, without notes, as did G. Clare's words were spoken by the civil celebrant, Charyl.

My contribution was basically a brief biography. I remember I was looking down at the lectern all the while I was talking. I felt more comfortable talking this way, rather than looking up at the collection of people in the room. I was a bit worried about suddenly tearing up with emotion if I caught someone's eye, so I just kept my eyes lowered during the whole of the delivery, which took about ten minutes. G told me she started to get nervous during her presentation. In fact she did very well. She said later that I could be heard quite clearly while I was talking.

After the service - during which we watched a short photo montage of images taken from my collection of photos of mum - everyone gathered outside where the casket by this time stood in the hearse. We said our last goodbyes. Clare's mother, mum's sister-in-law, guided me to the coffin and I started to get emotional. I touched the cold, varnished wood, which was a mid-brown colour, and I could see the condensation from my warm hands forming on its surface. I took back my hand and turned away from the coffin. The hearse started to move off after they had closed the swing door and moved slowly around toward to cemetery, which is located just down the road. The cremation will probably have already happened by now, or if not yet, then soon.

We all gathered in the room next to the chapel where the food was laid out. We stood around in small groups talking. The staffer in charge of the event came and spoke to me briefly about future things - including the death certificate, which he says will take the government about two weeks to produce - and then he left to attend to other things. I asked for containers to put excess food into. We had originally planned for about 20 people so there were a lot of uneaten scones by the end of the morning. Someone brought plastic containers into the room and left them near the hot-water urn. I picked them up and started to load them with sandwiches and cakes using the tongs that were scattered around the place. Others did similarly, in preparation for taking home some simple refreshments. Later, we drove down the motorway and I dropped off two friends in the city who had arrived at the event by train. Then G and I drove home through Chinatown.

When I got home I opened up the box containing the visitor's book and in it was the death certificate that was filled out by mum's GP after her death. It said that mum had died from cardiovascular collapse which had proceeded for minutes before life expired. So she had finally died of a heart attack related to the sepsis.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Feeling rather strange since mum has gone

This morning I woke up and made some coffee, then drank a cup and went back to bed hoping to resume the dreams that always punctuate my sleep, but no luck, the dreams had fled. The coffee maybe had chased them away. I tossed and turned for a couple of hours until I got fed up with it and emerged. In front of the computer I went through my Facebook feed for the past 12 hours or so and made some comments.

The laundry had to be done and I always love doing the laundry. I had washed the clothes in the morning while I was still in bed, and so I put a load into the dryer and switched it on. The dryer rumbled comfortably for the 45 or 50 minutes or so that it takes to do a load. During this time I had the TV on and was listening to it in the background while attending to social media. Then I took off the first load and put it in the laundry basket. I put on the second load - the shirts - and sat back again with the TV on above the tumble of the dryer. Room room room room room room room room went the dryer.

I tottered around the apartment until it was time to go to lunch and off I went to the noodle shop down the street which - I discovered today - is operated by a Korean who lived in Japan. His front-of-shop staff - the girls - are Japanese and the cooking staff at the back - the boys - are Korean. He talks to them in their own languages. He likes me because I always buy a beer at his shop on weekends to go with my gyouza and ramen.

After eating I came back and went back to bed to read some of my book. But it was boring and I got up and ironed the shirts, then went out to watch TV and drink some wine. I started to feel human again. The strange feeling I get when I am alone in the apartment - when I feel as though my head is located about a mile above my body - disappeared. I started to feel normal again. Not normal like I do when I am doing the laundry, but normal for when there is no laundry to do. Tomorrow at lunchtime I pick up G from the airport as she is coming down again for mum's funeral, which is on Monday. I'll have to find a tie to wear.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

All alone since mum passed away

It seems strange that there's noone to drive up the motorway to visit. I used to enjoy the approach to the motorway ramp, just down the street, with the radio tuned to ABC 702 in the mornings and the talk shows emanating through the speakers. It's very strange to be able to stay inside in the mid morning instead of venturing out to go to see mum in the nursing home or in the hospital. It has only been a few days since mum passed away but already the tremors are being felt.

In loneliness. The empty hours which previously would be filled with a sense of purpose. Now they are spent wondering what to do. Waiting for the late afternoon when the wine can decorously be brought out to sip. Waiting for someone to call, to tweet, to post. Lonely hours in limbo.

I am waiting for the funeral, which will happen next Monday, to rouse me from this torpor. I will probably cry. I have met with the funeral celebrant and we have decided that I will just talk extempore for a while about mum. Mum. Her photo with me appeared on Facebook this morning. The photo we took in 2009 when I had just moved up to Queensland to look after her. Since then we have spent a lot of time together, eating dinner, watching the corny UK TV shows she loved so much in the evenings, in the nursing home, in the hospital.

Waiting for the funeral but also waiting for the rest of the process to get through, including the proving of the Will and the issuing of the death notice. All these things take so much time and consume so much erratic attention. In the meanwhile I am sitting here with a glass of chardonnay and watching TV in the background while attending to social media. A quiet, solitary place animated by other souls in their textual brackets, as it were, in their own little boxes of sense and quotation. I watch the world go by and wait for the time for dinner to arrive. It's almost like being in company, and sometimes I talk with someone. Like you. I can talk with you.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Getting the funeral organised

This morning I drove up to the nursing home to get some clothes to dress mum in for her funeral. One of the nurses there brought down one of the care staff who normally showered and dressed mum in the mornings to select some things, including underwear, a pair of pants, a shirt, a jumper and a pair of shoes. I put them into a plastic bag I had brought along for the purpose and collected mum's suitcase - which was actually my suitcase which I had used for moving her down to Sydney - and her purse from her handbag. Then I took everything out to the car.

I drove south along the motorway to North Ryde where the undertaker's office and chapel is located. (This is where I had got lost on Saturday looking for the cafe.) I gave the staffer there the bag full of photos - including a thumb drive with some scans I had made years earlier, two or three loose prints, and a framed reproduction of a black and white photo mum had had - and explained that the person I have met on Saturday had asked me to bring them in. I also gave her the bag of clothes for dressing mum.

When I was finished at the undertaker's I drove home and then went to see my psychiatrist - we have an appointment every two weeks - who listened to me complain about things for an hour. It's always a relief to talk to him, it seems to do me good. After that was finished I dropped into a nearby restaurant to have a bowl of noodles for lunch, then I went home and lay down for an hour.

The undertaker sent me an image showing what the newspaper ad for mum will look like. So far I have had about nine responses from people who want to come to the funeral, and there might be a few more as a result of the newspaper ad. Everyone has been so kind since mum died, I have had a series of big hugs from people I have met, including lovely ones from staff in the nursing home. I don't know why I worry, but I do, so there you go.

The image that accompanies this blogpost shows a detail from a rug mum knitted some years back while still in Maroochydore. Of late she would not have been able to do work with this much detail. It is made up of a series of "tracks" of native animals with embroidered captions ("croc xing", "brumby xing") making up a patchwork quilt that is very special, and I have someone in mind who might like to receive it. I'll take the quilt up to the dry cleaners when I get some free time.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The day after mum died

I bought a democracy egg and bacon roll this morning at the polling station after voting. The queue for the voting booth even at 8.05am stretched round one corner and almost to the next. It's a busy booth, as you can guess. But I also was busy because mum died last night.

Last night I had just returned from having dinner and was in the apartment at around 6.30pm when the nursing home called. The voice on the other end was hesitant and reluctant so I knew what she was going to say before she said it but nevertheless the sobs gushed out as I answered and told them that I would not come out then but would instead visit the nursing home in the morning.

I went online and contacted my daughter and talked to her on Skype for a little while. Not long. But enough to get through that stage of grief when all you can do is sob breathlessly and helplessly from the pain. She tolerated my emotionalism stoically and I could see her lip quivering in response. It was exactly what I needed. Then I got down to making more calls to tell family members and I also made a quick Facebook post that generated a big reaction from friends and family on social media - more than I expected, and I was very humbled by the goodwill out there in the community. People had been reading my blogposts and so they were aware of what has been happening with mum.

Later in the evening I watched some mediocre British crime dramas and then went to bed where I hardly slept until early this morning, and even then it was fitfully. After getting up in the morning and voting I drove up to the nursing home and called my brother on the iPad that had been left there. I told him about all the things that have to be dealt with - from the Will to the death certificate and the funeral arrangements - and we talked a bit about the pictures that mum had in her room, which we will now deploy elsewhere.

I carried photos and paintings down to the car parked in the garage - a local soccer comp that was on in the park meant street parking was scarce when I had arrived at the nursing home - and drove to the appointment I had made at the undertaker's in North Ryde. There I parked and walked off in search of a cafe but the path just took me to a caravan park. I asked for directions and they pointed me back down the road, so I trudged back along between the forest on one side and the cemetary on the other, until I returned to my car. Then I drove up into the cemetary driveway and found the cafe, where I ordered a sausage roll and a small flat white.

Later when I had finished eating I met with the representative of the undertaker's and we went through the seemingly endless series of questions you have to answer to bury someone. There are forms to fill out and sign, some of which have to be sent off to government offices, so it's all very detailed. I could hardly imagine going through all this alone so I was glad to have the undertaker to lead me by the hand. As they say, it is a stressful time in anyone's life.

I finished up, got in the car and found the tunnel back to the city, then drove down the motorway until I arrived at home, unloaded the car and lay down to rest. I didn't sleep again. My mind is rushing with so many thoughts and worries, and now I hope that a few people will come along to the funeral which will be held at Gregory & Carr's, 14 Delhi Road (cnr Plassey Road), North Ryde on Monday 11 July at 11.30am. Just drive through the black gates on Plassey Road, there's parking inside. Drop me a line if you want to come along, as I need to get the numbers right for catering purposes.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Mum back in the nursing home again

Mum won't leave the nursing home alive. I went up there to see her and tears started to fall when I was turning off into the road that passes by the Epping shopping centre. So many memories. A place I have driven to so many times. So many good memories.

I met mum's GP by accident at the nurse's station on the first floor after I signed in with my name. We talked. He has agreed to using palliative care at this point in time. I told him I had an appointment at the haematologist's to cancel, and he said just to call them. The haemetologist had complained about the hospital sending mum back too early last time they had done so.

Going down the hallway to mum's room I wondered what sight would greet me when I pushed open the door to her room. It is a place I have visited so many, many times in the past. I have left part of myself there due to these visits over the months. It has been 18 months since mum moved here from the Coast.

Inside her room I saw mum in bed wearing a yellow striped pajama top. On the left side of her bed they had put down a pressure mat to call the nurses when she steps on it. Under it was a soft mat. On the right side of her bed there was just a soft mat. The soft mats were blue, the pressure mat grey. She had a blanket over her body and her legs, and a bedcover over her legs. The bed was low to the ground to prevent her getting up unassisted.

I went over to the table and put down the iPad box I was carrying. I took out the iPad and called my brother. I turned the control to show him mum lying on the bed and he looked hard at the picture revealed by the electronics and the software. I closed down the conversation after a little while and put the iPad back on the table, and plugged it in at the power point. I sat down and picked up the Kindle and started to read where I had left off reading last night in bed alone. It was the story of Karl Ove in Bergen, the university town he had gone to when he had left home as a teenager.

I read for mum for about an hour then went over and kissed her. I asked her if she was ok. She had been pushing the covers down with her hands while I was reading from the Kindle and so I asked her if she wanted the bedcover taken off her legs. She said "Yes" quite clearly. You have to listen very carefully because she cannot enunciate whole words now. She is incapable of talking, poor thing.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Mum's last day in the hospital

This is mum smiling bravely for the camera when I took her picture in the hospital this morning. Today will be her last day in the hospital. This afternoon they are moving her back to the nursing home where she will undertake palliative care.

I arrived at around 11am as usual - the start of Ryde Hospital's visiting hours - and she was sitting in the chair next to the bed. The nurse told me that she had eaten most of her breakfast. She had eaten all the eggs and half of the porridge. Then she had tried to get out of bed so the nurse had put her in the chair next to the bed instead.

Mum was not coherent when I came. There were a few words but mostly parts of words coming from her mouth. She was obviously confused. Whether she was delirious it is hard to say because I could not really understand what she was saying. She was pulling at her gown and dragging at a sheet that emerged from underneath her as she sat in the chair. The nurse told me that she had taken her gown off a few times already this morning. I kept on going over to her and saying, "Don't take it off mum."

As I had the day before I read to her from the first book of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle series. Today it was the two men going back to the house where their father had died. Despite the grizzly details mum seemed to enjoy it. Yesterday she had been even more vocal, and answered the questions that had popped up in the narrative as part of the dialogue, happily chiming in with "No" and "Yes" as the need arose. It was sweet.

Poor little thing. She will be back in well-known surrounds by the end of the day, and so I rang the nursing home to tell them she was coming back as I had received a call from the hospital to that effect. I got onto the deputy director and had a quick word to her. She said they were happy to have mum back. They are a great team of people at the nursing home, I am so grateful that they have been taking such good care of her. It makes my life so much easier knowing that they are doing whatever they can to make sure she is comfortable and cared for. I think nursing homes are fantastic places, the staff at my own place are always so responsive to people, always trying to give good service.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Mum goes into palliative care

So today brings the sad news that mum is being placed into palliative care. In the morning I spoke with my cousin who had brought my attention to mum's AHD, after mum had been moved overnight to the Cardiac Care Unit from Ward 7. Then I came back to the hospital this afternoon after Clare had returned to the road for the trip north and I spoke with mum's attending doctor. I had also earlier spoken with another doctor - who goes around to different units to help out where needed - and he had spoken to me about mum's AHD. (He was the same doctor who had spoken to me once before in the Emergency Ward about the AHD, and had advised me to think about what it contains.)

Mum's attending doctor examined her records and came to her room to have a look at her. He tried to get her attention but was not successful. We went outside the room to talk. There were two young doctors also standing there on their training rounds. The attending doctor told me that mum was getting worse. Her heart rate had gone up to around 140 bpm and she was struggling. Even when, two days earlier, she had looked well and was responsive, she was not mobile. Her likelihood of recovery was poor and even if she did beat the infections - in the right leg and in her bladder - and get out of the hospital she would likely be readmitted shortly due to the MRSA infection in her right leg.

He asked me if he could put mum into palliative care instead of putting her through more uncomfortable procedures, and I agreed. He said "Ok" and asked me if I was alright. I said I had been looking after mum for seven years and had seen the degeneration of her health over the previous months and years. I went back into mum's room and said goodbye. The doctor came in and turned off the heart monitor and a little while later a nurse came and disconnected mum from the machines. The room was suddenly less active. It was almost quiet except for occasional footfalls in the hallway outside the room where mum lay alone apart from me, sitting there in the chair in the corner. Mum lay there with her mouth open. A nurse came in to put cream on mum's lips to prevent them cracking and causing pain. I stayed for a while then I left and drove home.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Mum is a bit delirious

When G and I arrived in the ward today we could hear mum talking out loud - obviously disturbing the other occupants of her room - and the word that was most obvious in her monologue was "rabbits". She didn't make much sense. It was clear that she was delirious and that therefore she had slipped back a bit compared to yesterday. Yesterday she was talking normally and making perfect sense. Today she was ranting deliriously.

There was no wall between what she wanted to say and what emerged from her mouth. She would react to the slightest snippet of conversation overheard from a nearby bed. She would react with disdain to the suggestion of a mouthful of food. She would yell when the doctor picked up her arm to examine the skin on it. She was just voicing all her feelings without any barrier between the inception of the feeling and the final word that emerged. It was just not the way she normally is. It was the infection talking.

We tried to get her to eat something but without much success. We had more luck with the coffee - a flat white - which I had bought at the kiosk outside the hospital's front door. They make decent coffees there so I don't blame mum for not eating the chicken breast and pumpkin and mashed potato that the kitchen had prepared (I tried some and had no trouble eating it but it wasn't exactly cordon-bleu).

After the visiting hours had ended we left and came back home, then walked up the street to have some Vietnamese food for lunch. I had a chicken pho and G had summer rolls. Tomorrow G goes back home to the Coast.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Mum feeling better in hospital ward

G and I went up to see mum this morning in the hospital and she was awake and talking to herself when we arrived. She speaks slightly awkwardly - the jaw doesn't seem to move unimpeded at the moment - but at least she can make herself understood. She was amenable to humour and we had a bit of a laugh as the nurses came in and out, connecting a bag of antibiotics to the cannula in her hand. There was a vitamin supplement to dissolve in water and drink as well, which we accomplished during lunchtime. The cleaner came by and mopped under the bed.

So it looks as though the difficult time of mum's recent illness has finally disappeared, which is a relief. It took a bit longer than usual to go - four days - but she is now sitting in bed with open eyes listening to what is going on around her. That's a long way from where she was even yesterday, let alone on Wednesday when she finally was admitted to the hospital. At that time her health was very touch-and-go. Now she just looks like she's just waiting for the nod from the doctor to let her leave to go back to the nursing home.

About the future, I spoke last night with mum's GP. He called while we were in the restaurant having dinner. He told me that the periods between illnesses was getting too short - ten days in hospital giving you two weeks of free time in the nursing home - and that he would prepare a letter for the nursing home staff for next time mum gets sick. Which will be soon enough, there's no doubt. When it happens the GP will be recommending nothing more than palliative care in the nursing home. This means - sadly - that mum's days are numbered.

She has done well however. Back in November 2014 when she first got the diagnosis for the myelodysplastic syndrome the haematologist gave her a prognosis of only six months. She did a lot better than that, it's clear, and has kept herself together for a bit over 18 months now. She has had a good trot overall but it's going to be time soon to put aside the tubes and the drips and let nature take its course. I'm only glad it's not my decision in that case.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Mum is in hospital ward again

Yesterday I picked up mum's old housekeeper G from the airport. We went up to the hospital in the late afternoon - a bad time for the traffic - and saw mum but she wasn't really talking much. She was mumbling sort of incoherently and could barely answer you when you spoke to her. Today she was a bit more compos mentis and even opened her eyes at one point.

She has a bad infection and the doctors in the ward are still uncertain how she will go. It's a bit touch and go at the moment, frankly. G and I spent an hour with her this morning. We gave her half a bottle of water to drink - in a cup through a straw - and offered her some cake which we found in a packet on the tray near her bed. But she refused the cake. She looks very frail still although she is talking more than she did yesterday. We will go up again to see her tomorrow.

If anyone wants to visit mum in Ryde Hospital she is in Ward 7 out the back of the main entrance and up the ramp. She can respond to words quite well although her replies might be a bit confused. She has been very sick indeed, so you have to be a bit patient with her. Cake might not be eaten, not sure.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Just a quick trip up to see mum

I quickly dropped in to see mum at the nursing home today because the nurses there told me that she wasn't taking the antibiotics the hospital had given them to give to her. The antibiotics are oral type, and when I saw her with her head on her pillow, breathing deeply through her mouth, I understood the situation immediately. She is almost completely incommunicado. I talked with the RN, who told me they had been trying to get onto the GP but that since he had moved his practice, they had difficulty contacting him.

I only stayed for a little while. Mum was washed while I was there and during this procedure she uttered incomprehensible sounds that gave you the impression of displeasure. She didn't like being towel-washed. The nurses are doing for her as much as they can but it is difficult for them. They also told me they would be getting in touch with an after-hours doctor at 4pm. I called the nursing home a little while ago but they just put me on hold. They were obviously busy on the first floor with dinner. Then I called later and confirmed they would be installing a spray to keep mum's mouth moist while she is in her current state.

Tomorrow G - mum's old housekeeper - is coming to Sydney to visit. I had asked her to come down earlier. Originally she was to come down from the Coast on Friday. When I pick her up from the domestic terminal we'll go up to the nursing home on the motorway.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Another hospital visit for mum

When I got up to the nursing home to visit mum today she was like she looks in this photo: quite incommunicado. Not hearing, not responding to words. We called the ambulance. I popped downstairs to have a word with the deputy director of the nursing home. She heard me out as usual. I got from her the message that mum is getting close to the end. I went back upstairs to wait for the paramedics to arrive, and when they did I talked to them to answer their questions, then went outside with them and drove to the hospital.

I sat in the emergency area waiting room for about 45 minutes then snuck outside to the kiosk and bought a sandwich and a drink for lunch. I was hungry and the simple food they serve there was exactly what I craved. I went back in the emergency waiting room and went to the desk to ask if it was ok to go inside, and if the doctors inside had asked to talk with me.

They let me in. The nurse at the desk told me to put on a plastic apron before going into mum's enclosed room. (She is quite toxic because of the MRSA in her leg.) I sat there with the white apron over my outdoors jacket feeling a bit odd, like a cook without a stove, and talked to mum gently while she lay there. Occasionally she would say something like "My legs are cold" and I would get a new blanket for her. Mainly though she just lay there breathing with the heart machine beeping away happily.

I spoke to the young female doctor. She brought me a copy of the AHD which the nursing home had included with mum's things to go with her in the ambulance. We talked about it. Especially the part where it says that in the case of a terminal illness she is not to be given antibiotics. I told the doctor that my inclination was to give her vancomycin but that if the hospital said otherwise I wouldn't complain. Then when the doctor had left to get back to her work I called the nursing home and asked to speak to the deputy director.

The nurse I was speaking to talked to me gently and told me that I could choose for mum, but that she understood it was a terrible responsibility. She said it was an awful thing to have to decide; whether someone lived or died. But she said she understood if I wanted to end things because the vancomycin - although it is a strong antibiotic - was only a "band aid" (the exact word she used). If we gave it to mum today then in two weeks' time she could be again on her way to the hospital in an ambulance.

Then she said I had done everything possible for my mother. I had been a good son. And this made me weep. The idea that I could have got this right - this caring for mum in these awkward days I had not prepared for - made me break down and shed hot tears. I tore off the apron and headed outside to the emergency nurse's desk, and said I had to go home. The nurse however followed me out into the hallway and asked if I was ok. I told him that I thought that it was pointless to keep treating mum because she was just going to get sick again, and that we should respect the words in the AHD that mum had herself signed off on two years earlier. I told him through the tears that I had been looking after mum for seven years now. And that now I was tired of the constant worry and anxiety the sickness instilled in everyone around her.

I went out to the car and stopped off at the servo on the way home to refuel and buy a sandwich. When I got home I opened a bottle of wine and poured myself a glass. Never had wine tasted so good. I was so exhausted by the neverending worry about mum and her leg. Later, after I had eaten some dinner, the nursing home called me to tell me that mum had returned, but that she wasn't able to take the oral antibiotics the hospital had sent along with her. I called the hospital to confirm what to do and they called the nursing home. The nursing home called me back a while later and we had another conversation, the nurse and I. But I feel as though my mother is already calling from beyond the grave.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Walk to the park with mum

In this photo taken on our way to the park mum looks happy enough but it was hard going for her, especially once we hit the grass on the way to the second bench. Mum might be grinning in the photo but she was soon muttering under her breath and groaning with the exertion required. We took about 15 minutes to get to the second bench, and then we sat there for about 25 minutes. We left not because mum was getting cold but because of the lunch to be served, and because of the time it would take to get back inside the nursing home.

On the way back to the nursing home, as we were going down the footpath alongside it, mum ran out of puff completely and I sat her down on the walker. I guided her down the footpath to the gate, then opened it and pushed the loaded walker inside. Then I went up to the entrance and found a wheelchair in a cupboard on the ground floor. I brought it outside and put mum in it, then took her inside and upstairs to the lunch area. I sat her down at a table and went to put away her outside clothes - jacket, scarf, cap and sunglasses - then put away the wheelchair downstairs and went outside to get mum's walker, which I had left near the side gate.

Mum is very frail. Actually, this will probably turn out to be her last unaided walk outside to the park. In future I will be taking her out - but from now on in the wheelchair. Getting to the bench and getting back inside is just a bit too much effort - for her, now - and so it is going to have to be me pushing mum around in a wheelchair from now on. It's just too risky for her. A fall outside at this point would be awful. I can't contemplate how unpromising it would be for her to fall when we are in the park.

But regardless, she is still going. Her right leg - the one that has given her so many problems in the past two months or so - has stayed inert. It is not inflamed and sore. So for the moment things are under control and we can hope that she will keep going indefinitely. Nevertheless it is only realistic to anticipate that the infection will return at some point in the future. The question is when. How long will there be between hospitalisations - when she will receive treatment using vancomycin (pretty much the last antibiotic that works on her)? How long will she have in the nursing home in the interim?

A couple of days ago I spoke with the nursing home's deputy director about these issues. Things that I had already spoken with mum's GP about. We agreed that we would treat mum again next time she needed hospitalisation, and then take it from there. It is the frequency of admission to hospital that is key. How much time does she get that has real quality of life in it, between stints in the hospital? We'll be looking at this as we go down the track.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Negative gearing is good policy

I completed a voting intentions survey from the SMH yesterday which showed that my place on the political spectrum was closest to the Greens. I thought this was a bit funny since I'm planning to vote LNP on 2 July, and I said so in the Facebook post. But a person I know asked how it could be possible for me to vote conservative, and so I explained. He wasn't very impressed to put it mildly.

But as George Megalogenis, the journalist, has written in his recent book, immigration is the underpinning of Australia's economic strength. We've been taking in a couple of hundred thousand immigrants annually since the 1950s, which is why Australia is one of the strongest economies in the world. These people all need somewhere to live, and rental accommodation will be the solution for the great majority, at least in the beginning of their residence here. Cheap rents are important therefore, otherwise we fail all these people. So we need negative gearing to help maintain the supply of new properties. The "oversupply" of new constructions of late is for example just the result of three years of strong home price growth, and if you take away the incentive to build the supply will dry up and rents will rise commensurately.

We also need to support the tens of thousands of honest mums and dads who buy investment properties to ensure a secure future for themselves in their retirement. Not only do we help the government minimise the cost of the aged pension on the Commonwealth purse, we also make it easier for individuals to have a better quality of life, and more cash to spend in their twilight years.

It always bothers me when young people who want to live in tony suburbs like Stanmore and Newtown complain about the cost of housing. I want to tell them to look further afield, where there is plenty of housing for reasonable prices. But they will have their lifestyle no matter the cost to the public more generally. The debate on negative gearing has been going on for some time so this is not my first blogpost on the subject, but I hope that it will be the last. I predict a win to Mal with a margin of 5% in July, so the debate will hopefully finally be put to bed at that time.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Mum's bruised hands

This is how mum's hands looked after her recent hospitalisation. In fact, they've improved in this photo since she was first released from the ward. But they were so badly bruised because of the cannulas they put into her hands to accept the IV antibiotics and direct the flow into her body. A cannula is a small plastic pipe with a tube at one end and a clip at the other. The clip end faces out and the IV feed from the bag of antibiotics is fastened to it.

Because mum's skin is delicate and because she has the bad habit of taking the cannulas out of her hands when they're not connected to the IV feed, her hands become bruised like this because new sites for the cannulas have to always be found. It'll be the same story if she's readmitted to the hospital again at some point in the future. But when she got out of the hospital she forgot that she had been in hospital, and so she had to invent a reason why her hands were so badly bruised. This is how she works it out:
I don't know what's wrong with my hands. Something to do with an unrestrained horse in the back of a car with no bridle. I don't know how I got into that situation but I was in a sedan with a horse in it.
I tried to talk her around it:
It's not true you know.
You were never in a car with a horse in it.
Oh [well], it was a good story.
Finally she accepted my version but you can be sure that if I bring up the subject again tomorrow when I visit her in the nursing home she will revert to the story of the horse in the car. That's just the way dementia works. It seems strange to us, almost willfully blind, but to her it's the only realistic solution to an intractable problem: how did her hands get so banged up?

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Decisions to be made about mum's future health care

Mum and I went out to the park again today with the wheelchair. The children were playing soccer on the field and I put mum next to the second bench, and I sat on it, and we watched the kids kick the ball around the place. Some of them were quite good. After about 15 minutes we went back inside due to the cold.

I had managed to get onto my brother in Houston on the iPad this time, and I told him about mum's frail condition, and how she was prey to infections, and could be back in hospital at any time. When we had finished talking I went down the hallway to the nurse's station to ask if they could dress mum's leg as I wanted to take her outside in the wheelchair. The nurse told me that they had seen that we were talking on the iPad and so had not disturbed us when they had called earlier to dress the leg in mum's room.

While the nurse was doing the dressing another nurse came by to talk about various things that had been my preoccupation for some weeks, namely the likelihood that the nursing home would one day soon call me again to ask if mum should be readmitted to the hospital. I had also been pressingly engaged with the request that I knew would come from hospital staff - because of the advance health directive (AHD) we have in place - as to whether mum should be treated with antibiotics to cure the infection when it came. This had happened last time. It would again be my decision to make.

The nurse told me that it might be possible to put in place an alternative AHD. She also suggested having a meeting with the deputy director of the nursing home and also the GP so that we are all on the same page regarding mum's health care, when it comes to making decisions in future about it. She said she could organise this meeting for next week and asked what day I would be available. I checked my calendar and said I was pretty much free the whole week.

The reason I think it is important to have this kind of meeting is to make sure that mum's wishes - as expressed in the AHD - and common sense are adequately allowed for. Take the way the hospital has been handling mum's case since her last admission. Not only did they call me to ask if antibiotics should be used - because the AHD says not to use them for terminal illness - but to ensure that there is a degree of common sense around her treatment. In this case I like to keep in mind that the hospital kept mum in the ward for a second round of IV antibiotics because she obviously needed them, but also because the only way they could be administered when she is in the nursing home is through a pick line: a tube inserted in the arm and into the body for the fluids to enter the body through. A pick line was clearly thought to be too invasive, and so they chose the less invasive option.

Even in the best cases there are invasive treatments involved in hospital admission, including for example the catheter that is inserted in the urethra when the patient is still unconscious in the emergency ward. Then there are the cannulas - which mum is always wont to take out of her hands because she forgets what they are for when they are not plugged into a bag of antibiotics. Cannulas are like small plastic devices that accept the IV feed and direct it into the vein, but they can easily be taken out of the vein by busy fingers. The number of cannulas mum needed this time is attested to in her case by the extent of the bruising on her hands and arms. (The poor woman has devised a fantasy - she was in the back of a car with horses - to explain how the bruises came about. "The horses smelled," she said. "You couldn't make that up," she told me, looking in my eyes, as though seeking agreement.)

Poor mum. She was sitting there while I was having these detailed discussions with the nursing staff about her life. On occasion she said, "I'll just go," as though this might make the decision any easier in future. I felt terribly touched when she said "I'll just go" because I know she is saying it to avoid burdening me with any more responsibility. Not that she really wants to die. (Not that she really wants all that terribly much to live either: we talked briefly about voluntary euthanasia and how it is dealt with by the state in Australia today.) But it is a terribly hard conversation to have - the conversation we had today - because when it comes down to it you are dealing with an infection that can only be treated by antibiotics available in IV form, and that only hospitals can dispense. In mum's case therefore you come down to admitting her again and again and again to hospital, and getting her out for a week or two at a time in between. What kind of a life can that be?