Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Category: Family (Page 1 of 2)

Making explosive changes – a grown up website

I’m not a web developer. I have a pretty basic website. ‘Oh, no way, Liz!’ I hear you cry. ‘Your site is amazing.’

It isn’t. Let’s not pretend.

Elizabeth Jane Corbett.com began life as an amateur red and green Blogger site, called Hanner Cymraes. The acquisition of a domain name and a basic WordPress template, didn’t improve the situation. Until Cindy Steiler donated a magnificent blog header photo and Erin Curry held my hand while I chose a better template. My site was re-born. But it was still just a blog site with a few basic widgets – blind, blundering, trial-by-error, self-installed widgets – and, although it looked semi-professional, behind the scenes, let me tell you, it was ready to combust.

I approached various son’s-in-law, hoping they’d welcome a “fix-it-project.” They were kind but firm. You are on your own with this, Liz. I turned to my husband. Went straight for the jugular.

‘Andrew,’ I said. ‘I’m getting a book published. Millions (cough) will be visiting my site. Which could crash at any minute. Then where would we be? Our early retirement plans (ha,ha,ha) in ruins!’

He wasn’t convinced. Even when I wept, gnashed my teeth. Tried a wee bit of emotional blackmail.

‘You should want to help. All my friends’ husbands develop their author sites. They are supporting their wife’s endeavours.’

But here’s the thing about my husband. He’s a feminist. He doesn’t go in for any of that men-are-better-than-women stuff. Which is fine, expect when you need help with your website.

I invested writing time – hours in fact – trying to create menus, a static homepage, Mail Chimp integration. The more I toiled, the worse my site got. Meanwhile, it’s back-end resembled a cat in a yarn box.

In desperation, I Googled: help with WordPress site.

Turns out there is this Melbourne company, called SnugSite. Who charge by the hour –  like itemised, accurately estimated, we understand-the predicament hours. And, here’s the thing, the developer I worked with was a woman. Which means, I didn’t even fail the feminist test.

Next we are going to tackle the mysteries of SEO.

Meanwhile, I have a nice tidy website. Why not click on my name above, check out the static homepage, or follow the little red arrows on the menu bar. Google even comes up with well-worded links if you type my name. Best of all, the site is less likely to combust on publication day.

Family Fun – a week in the Lake District

I  have always wanted to visit Lake District, ever since I read Swallows and Amazons in primary school. So when my son, Jack, suggested we meet there for a family holiday it fulfilled twin purposes, spending some time with family and ticking an item off my bucket list. I saw the original ‘Swallow’ went on a walk to Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm, learned a little about Ruskin’s work and did two jigsaw puzzles. In between, I remembered how busy is life with pre-schoolers.

Charlie is an early riser who loves trains, as much his father did at the same age. We went on a steam train, during which he tried to convince me that he always drank Coca Cola, woke at four am one morning, ate his breakfast and then decided to contribute to our jigsaw puzzle at which point he woke the whole household to share in his success. I watched him ride his bike, play on the iPad, negotiate over whether or not to wear his coat and gloves and bike helmet, listened to him form amazing sentences and marveled at how much attitude an almost four year old could put into the word ‘fine.’

Born last December, this was my first meeting with Christopher. As we organized our week around his feeds, nappy changes and sleeps, I remembered how lovely it is to kiss a downy head, to earn a baby smile, and to have an infant’s warm body grow slack and heavy in my arms. Ness and I walked to Hilltop Farm and took turns in the swimming pool/gym at the local spa while Jack climbed Scarfell Pike. When I managed to get Christopher dried, dressed and safely in the land of nod all the while keeping an eye on Charlie bobbing about in the water, I felt like I’d climbed England’s highest mountain. How did I ever get through those early years?


Now I’m on the train to Wales. I’ll spend the first week on a Welsh language Bootcamp in Caernarfon. I’m feeling unaccountably nervous, considering I’ve done this before. I think it is because I’m ‘supposed’ to be able to speak Welsh well. At least, I could a little over a year ago after living in Corris for seven months. But my Welsh language brain feels rusty. Hopefully, this week will be a kick-start me back into almost fluency. There will be loads of bumbling half sentences, shrieks of laughter, moments of complete incomprehension (like all those Cofi accents) and huge leaps in understanding. I won’t be on social media much as it will defeat the purpose of a non-English week and rob me of my progress. I may do a few posts in my learner’s Welsh so if you can’t read them, get-over-it (or use Google translate). I will look forward to re-entering the English speaking world on 30th of April.

 

Hwyl tan hynny!

Angry Birds: how I nearly failed the Aunty test

One of my more recent pleasures is having my brother and his family settle in Melbourne. This means I get to be Aunty Liz to my nephews, let’s call them, Gideon and Jonathan. I have in fact, been Gideon’s aunty for eighteen years but the small matter of him living in Africa limited tangible expressions of this relationship. When asked, recently, whether the boys could stay with us for the weekend, we agreed readily. Though, of course, I had forgotten how much energy was involved in managing teenagers. Especially when the said teenagers have quite distinct needs. 

Gideon is small and particular and funny and needs loads of time to himself. Jonathan is sporty and outgoing and busy trying to establish himself in Melbourne. He also eats a lot. I had forgotten how much fuel teenage boys need. I shopped for Shapes and bread and fruit but Jonathan got home before me and Andrew had recently flown in from Huston, Texas, so there wasn’t enough food in the house. 

Right, I thought, this is going to take a bit more forethought than I had envisaged.

 

We had an ESL dinner at church which meant I had cooked a risotto. This, combined with curry, rice and some home baked muffins did the trick for an hour or two. Andrew, due to the residual effects of jet lag, volunteered for the early Saturday morning sports run while I looked after Gideon (I am so good at this morning routine that I can do it in my sleep, literally). Having to take my hearing aids out the night before, helps significantly. I woke at a not unreasonable hour Saturday morning and thought, why is Gideon in the shower? Half and hour later, when I woke again, I thought, why is he still in the shower? Turns out the Wiggles played, over and over, down low, sounds like running water. Who would have thought? 

Around lunch time, Gideon and I met Andrew and Jonathan in our local cafe for brunch. Yes, turns out we are a hipster aunt and uncle. We asked the boys what they would like to do that evening. Jonathan wanted to see Captain Marvell, Gideon, Angry Birds. We searched for a cinema in which both movies were playing simultaneously. Northland, had an almost perfect solution as long as Andrew and Jonathan left early and cycled to the cinema, leaving Gideon and I to follow in the car in time for the shorter Angry Birds. The movies would finish within fifteen minutes of each other and we would buy dinner (yes, hipsters on steroids, or perhaps, just making up for eighteen years of neglect).  

Now, I had never been to Northland Shopping Centre (I’ve never done the 1000 steps either, or been to the MCG). Call me unadventurous but I wasn’t exactly lining up for the Northland experience. But I punched the address into my iPhone, started the navigation program, and set off nice and early. We arrived in plenty of time. Which was good because I parked pretty much as far from Hoyts as possible. Speaking of which, I haven’t been to a Hoyts since I left Neighbours country. A fact that will become patently obvious as the story unfolds. 

We bought our tickets. The woman mentioned something about Extreme Screen. But, you know, it’s a long time since I have been to a Hoyts cinema and I was looking for a number. Even though it said, Extreme Screen, on the ticket, right where the number usually sits, and even though we walked past a theatre labelled Extreme Screen. The penny did not drop. I saw L 12 and even though that is clearly a row and seat number and even though, theatre number twelve didn’t have a row L. The penny didn’t drop. Not when the movie didn’t start on time either. Or when there were no children in the audience. I thought: gee, it’s amazing how many adults have nothing better to do than watch Angry Birds on a Saturday night. It wasn’t until the film started to roll that I felt my first twinge of unease. Gee, I thought, fancy Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant being the voices in Angry Birds. It wasn’t until the words Florence Foster Jenkins filled the screen that the penny dropped.

‘Gideon,’ I said, ‘this isn’t Angry Birds.’

‘No,’ wide, serious eyes, ‘I don’t think so either.’

We left the cinema. The young girl who had sold me the ticket had great tact. I didn’t sense an inner eye-roll, or even the smallest hint of oh-my-God-what-loser in her manner, at all. 

‘Angry Birds started twenty minutes ago,’ she explained, politely. ‘But we have another session starting at 7.00.’

I turned to Gideon. We can go in now and miss the beginning, or we can wait until later. What would you prefer?’

‘I just want to see Angry Birds.’ Gideon replied, in what I am beginning to recognise is his wide-eyed, serious, trade mark style. 

By which I deduced he meant the whole movie.

Fortunately, we live in a technological age. I was able to convey the change of plans to Andrew and Jonathan, grab a quick, pre-movie bite with Simeon while waiting for the next session, which would be playing in an ordinary numbered theatre. I am still none the wiser about the Extreme Screen experience. But if Gideon’s doubled over laughter is anything to go by, Angry Birds was worth the wait and, I think, I may have even passed the Aunty Test.

Celebrating significant milestones

Those of you who know me will realise I celebrated a significant birthday this year. Andrew celebrated the same milestone last year. We also clocked up a thirtieth wedding anniversary. A party was called for, invitations sent out. People flew in from interstate. We had a great night. One of the highlights of the evening was Seth’s speech. Here it is for those who couldn’t make it, with my short response.

*

Naturally I have only heard anecdotes about my parent’s time before marriage. If I trusted them, I would tell you about Andrew Corbett at the Helsinki Olympics. Instead, I thought it best that stick tonight to cold hard fact, verified by those who have lived it.

So here we go.

Quite surprisingly, after being deprived TV until I was 12 years old, I have a soft spot for movies. I therefore can think of no better way to express this speech but with obscure film references. My first thought was to compare Mum and Dad’s marriage to my favourite film trilogy: The Before Sunrise Series. The series follows the life and relationship of two people, Jesse and Celine, over the span of 20 years.

The first movie sees the pair fall in love in Paris.

The second sees them reunite 9 years later in Paris again.

The third sees them married with children

The more I looked, I found that a direct comparison was impossible:

Firstly, Hawthorndene and Vermont are not exactly Paris,

Secondly and most importantly, mum and dad achieved what took the Jesse and Celine twenty years, in the space of twelve months.

So instead myself and my siblings have created our very own film trilogy that better encapsulates the love story that is Andrew and Elizabeth Corbett.

 


Young love

Starring– Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Jack and Phoebe Corbett,

Tagline: Whatever you do…don’t have kids straight away.

Rating: G – minimal drug and alcohol use.

Box Office: limited South Australian release

Synopsis: A young naïve Christian couple fall in love in the hills of Adelaide. A 1980’s South Australian love story.

Things get off to a bad start at the wedding, when the catering runs out. The honeymoon in Robe is tense as Liz realises that the man she has married loves public nudity and outrageous facial hair. Both are studying, Andrew has a landscaping business. After settling into married life, the choice of the Billings method of birth control backfires with the birth of Jack “the guinea pig” Corbett.

Queue montage of chickpeas, no TV – board games, books and singing (Andrew Corbett’s songs), no Christmas presents before church, sugar free birthday cakes, camping holidays. Is this child abuse or inspired parenthood?

Andrew the long haired bearded hippy makes the decision to work for a multi-national oil company. Good thing he does too, because Phoebe “the favourite” Corbett is born shortly after. This is now a relationship of four…

Best moments: Andrew getting a job just before the birth of Jack. The presents from the Grandparents.

Favourite Quote: “We should try the Billings method”

Soundtrack: John Williamson, Andrew Corbett’s back catalogue

Cliff hanger: The Corbett’s move to Melbourne. The first house (paid for by Mobil) is in the inner city. The next, is an hour’s drive from Andrews work, the carpet stinks, rat poo in the oven. Will this make them or break them?

 

 

 

Fiji: there and back again

Starring: Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Phoebe Corbett, Seth Corbett, Naomi Priya Corbett

Tagline: The Corbett lampoons go on an extended vacation

Rating: R – high profanity, nudity, animal cruelty and images of archaic punishment methods

Box Office: Limited Australian release with a cult following in the pacific islands

Synopsis: After the birth of Seth, Melbourne becomes too small a place to keep the Corbetts. This is a family the world must see. (They are also broke and Andrew’s back is buggered). Enter the F word. Fiji. The transition is not smooth. Liz develops the trait of talking in a very slow voice because nobody must be able to understand her. Andrew’s eccentricities become unchecked, culminating in trying to kill the neighbours dogs with coconuts and abusing a confused old man for trying to steal the van. Both done in his underwear. These were the years of plenty – house girl/gardener (babysitter and trips away), resorts. Liz has to join slim life. Sailing, horse riding, embassy balls, more than one ice cream a year, amazing kids parties, sugar and other such novelties, Liz does ladies lunches and runs sea scouts , Dad runs Sunday school music (becomes a legend in the Sunday school circuit).

A new sister enters the family. Can life get any better?

No. All good things must end. The return to Australia is tough, long trips to work, no house girl, no garden boy, winter, have to wear shoes and jocks, plenty of Hungry Jacks.

Best moments:

Getting a new sister and brother

Trips to NZ

Resorts

Curry

Favourite Quote: “Mobil will pay for it”

Soundtrack: Isa Lei, Paul Kelly, Crowded House, Celtic Hymns

Cliff hanger: The Crows win the 1997 premiership, Darren Jarmen kicks six goals.

 

 

Sian! The kids are gone

Starring – Andrew Corbett, Elizabeth Corbett, Phoebe McCann, Jack Corbett Seth Corbett Priya Corbett, Vanessa Corbett, Andrew McCann and Monique Corbett with guest appearances from Carine from Holland, Winnie for a ‘Willage’ in the Faroe Islands and Alice from Switzerland and, finally, Biskit “the bloody dog” Corbett.

Tagline – They’re still married? We’re as surprised as they are!

Rating: G – a great film for the family.

Box Office – World-wide release, with record sales in the Faroe Islands, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Synopsis: living their “young adult’ years with their young adult kids. The Corbett’s settle back into Melbourne life. Mum takes up a variety of hobbies, becomes a Librarian, begins to write a book. Andrew begins to collect a set of hobbies of his own. Hiking, Canoeing, Fly Kites, fishing. The number of recycled art items begins to increase spreading from the chicken coop to his office, to the house. Ladders, chains, corrugated iron chickens. They are doing things backwards. One after the other the kids fly the coop. Half way through shooting the film, the production is halted as the money is all tied up in a government backed tree scheme. Finally, after more than 20 years, the day arrives. Drew and Sian move to Coburg. These are the hipster years, riding bikes, op shop clothes at retail prices, more art work, writing, learning welsh, teaching welsh, music. Andrew flourishing in the recycling era, hard rubbish collecting now socially acceptable (compared to us hiding in the car on the way home from church while dad searched for stuff).

Elizabeth Jane the writer is born.

Best moments:

The exchange students- lots of cul’cha.

Monique. And Vanessa and Andy.

Google has revolutionised family debate (just unfortunate that Google has multiple answers sometimes).

Dad realises his dream of being a grandparent by fifty.

Quotes:

“It’s a big bad world out there”.

“Where are you? Nobody is home, shit’s flying”

What better parents to have. As these films have shown, our parents have taught us a lot:

  • Family is important but be an individual.
  • It’s a big bad world out there, but it’s also an exciting and interesting place so go out and live.
  • Never be afraid to talk about money.
  • Music and stories should be cherished.
  • Don’t ever stop doing new things.

Whatever happens next, I am sure our days of being cooler than our parents are long gone.

 


My response:

So, here we are. Fifty years old and thirty years married. We have been together longer than we have been apart. And if you do the maths, you will realise we got married quite young. And if you have looked at Phoebe’s photo collage you will also have noticed that we were still children when we started having kids. Were we too young for marriage? Absolutely. Did we know what we were doing? Not at all. Should it have been a disaster? Well, yes, statistically.

But by the grace of God here we are.

I expect if we were clever we would create a formula and write a best selling book something like ‘the seven habits of marrying too young, having kids, struggling financially, and trying to stay sane.” But I’m not sure that there is a formula, apart from loving, living, listening and forgiving. Life is a messy business. And as for the sanity, that’s an illusion (on my part at least).

Yet, here we are.

Tonight, I want to thank Andrew for letting me grow up in my own way in my own time, with all my fads, fancies and obsessive interests. I want to thank our children, Jack, Phoebe, Seth and Naomi Priya for being part of our journey. For our children in law, Ness, Andy and Monique, for loving our children and joining our family. And, of course, our AFS daughters who have enriched our lives. I also want to thank family and friends who have travelled interstate to celebrate with us tonight – Ma and Pa, Willem, Jack, Ness and Charlie, Paul, Rod and Sue Mitchell. Finally to thank each of you for being part of our journey thus far. And for those in Coburg who have more recently become part of the journey. No man is an island. No marriage or family exists in isolation. Your friendship, support, love and laughter have all helped bring us to this point.

We consider ourselves fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Matters – a reflection on Internet enabled grand parenting

Anyone who ever had a meal with our family back in the days when we were all living under one roof will recall one iron fast rule. No phone calls during dinner time. If the phone rang we would sit, glued to our seats, listening to the answering machine go through its paces. Mostly, the caller would hang up, dinner being the favoured time of telemarketers. At others, a digitised message from the Whitehorse Maningham Regional Library Service would tell us our books were overdue. Occasionally, it was a personal call and the intended recipient would turn besseching eyes on Andrew.

He never let them answer.

These days, the rules have changed.

Sunday night we had an impromptu BBQ. We went through the usual agonised debate over how to use our gas Weber Q. We've had the BBQ almost two years and I use it all the time. But when we have people over Andrew and I have to coordinate our efforts. This always involves the instruction book and loads of impassioned hand gestures, causing Seth to observe.

'Family BBQ's wouldn't be the same without the great Weber debate.'

Anyway, we got the meat cooked, table set, salads on the table, we had just finished saying the blessing when Andrew's iPad started to chime.

'That'll be Jack,' he said, determined to preserve the sanctity of our meal time. 'We'll call back after dinner.'

'But Charlie might be in bed.'

'Quick, Dad, you'd better get it.'

'There's a spare seat. We could pop him at the end of the table.'

A quick glance at his watch, a flicker of indecision, andrew lunged, and thirty years of patriarchal control crumbled.

Charlie took his place at the head of the dinner table.

This is not an new event for the boy. We do a regular Sunday night call, watching him finish his dinner have a bath and get ready for bed.

This is called twenty-first century grandparenting.

Tonight Charlie had two adoring aunts and an uncle to watch him plough through his bowl of his spaghetti. Skype dropped out at some point and we had enough self control not to call back. The conversation turned to other matters, for some reason we needed to know what the alphabet that goes Alpha, Bravo, Charlie… Is called. I mean we had to know. I was twitching to look it up on Google, but, old habits die hard. I knew Andrew would only say.

'You don't have to look it up now, Liz.'

Fortunately, the kids are unaccustomed to not knowing. When did that happen? The realisation that most family debates can be solved by resorting to Google? Except, when two phones are involved, each one bringing up data to support their side of the argument.

Sunday night, Phoebe was the first to cave.

The alphabet is called the International Radio Telephony Alphabet, in case you are interested.

After dinner we filled the teapot and took a follow up call from Jack. Charlie was in the bath. We chatted while Jack dried and dressed him. Once he was upright, in his nighttime grow suit, Jack said. Watch Charlie for a minute will you?

He ducked from the room.

Now I don't know about you but I have reservations about minding a toddler on Skype two states away. I wasn't the only with doubts, one uncle, two adoring aunts and a besotted grandfather stared open mouthed at the screen. Charlie's chubby knees came into view, his little round toddler tummy, two wide blue eyes. He then turned and toddled out of view.

'Charlie!' A chorus of voices. 'Charlie!'

He didn't return.

I started moving the iPad around, trying to find Charlie, which didn't achieve anything, apart from making us all dizzy.

'Hold it still, Mum. You won't be able to find him. Charlie! Come back Charlie.'

Fortunately, Jack returned with Charlie under his arm. After after a story, the boy was tucked up in bed. We then took turns passing Jack around the room.

This is not a new phenomena either. We do this whenever we have a birthday gathering. Mostly with Jack and Ness. Sometimes with Carine. Or my brother Ian. Skype attendance has become a normal part of our family gatherings. I don't suppose we're alone in this. I guess it's like that in other families too.

The evening finished off with a quick YouTube session. Also becoming a standard feature of family events. We huddle around each other's mobile phones (I don't know why we don't use the iPads. Bonding perhaps?) and show of our latest favourites. Seth generally has the best offerings. This week he showed us Seinfeld in parliament. Why not check it out? Then you can be part of the party too.

 

 

A week of small things

Someone once told me that having children is like fighting a bushfire. As soon as you get things under control on one front, you turn to find a fire has broken out elsewhere. This seems to me an apt analogy. I found myself sharing it with a friend on the phone last Sunday evening. Having only just caught up on the daughter ICU news, she was surprised to find us in Brisbane preparing to celebrate our grandson’s first birthday.

Despite the arrival of his grandparents, Charlie saw no reason for festivities. With his top, front tooth bulging beneath his gums he expressed all the grizzling, snot-nosed, interrupted naps and arch backed frustration you would expect in the circumstances. He didn’t want cuddles thank you very much. Or for Mum and Dad to spend a night away in a city hotel. He didn’t get a choice. The hotel was booked and Jack and Ness were looking forward to sleeping past five thirty in the morning.

Andrew and I were left holding the baby.

Fortunately, our grandson is cute, charming and, possibly, the most gifted child in Australia and Andrew and I are besotted. Every grizzle, every angry glinting eye, every Jatz cracker hurled through the air, seemed to us a marvel. After the anxiety of the preceding week it was a blessing to be immersed in the small things. We nursed, sang, cut up food, changed nappies, tickled knees, dosed with Panadol and spooned down bowls of yoghurt like a pair of grinning Cheshire cats, knowing the task was only temporary.

Half way through our all-star, singing, dancing grand-parenting routine we got an SMS from the other kids.

‘How’s it going grandparents? Still got the touch?’

To which I replied: ‘Seriously hampered by an inability to offer the breast. It was always my first and last resort and it rarely let me down.’

Being plunged into the world of a toddler brought back a number of other memories. Some would call them life lessons. I offer a small list for your consideration.

  • Half past five is too early to rise
  • Leaves, twigs, pebbles and pavers are wonders
  • Tummies are made for tickling
  • Where’s Spot? works a kind of magic
  • One years olds have their own language
  • Hurt, delight, rage and frustration all mixed up in a babble of sound
  • They cry real tears
  • In the middle of the night
  • Their hair is all soft and downy
  • Reaching out with chubby hands
  • Your heart is softened
  • Even after all these years
  • You find it is still soluble

Happy first birthday Charlie.

 

A reflection on the letters ICU

You have heaps to write about. A new bike, travel plans, a trip to the Apple Store, the reasons you favour red shoes over all others. Yes, I know, important topics. They will one day be explored. But this week has been given over to a three letter acronym – ICU.

Your journey began last Friday when your daughter was scheduled for spinal surgery. It would be a big operation you were told and, as with all surgery, there were associated risks. You brace in the preceding weeks, light candles, journal about your hopes and fears, ask trusted friends to hold you in prayer, then you set off for the hospital ready to watch and wait.

The surgery will take two hours the surgeon tells you on admission. Please make sure your mobile phone is switched on. He will call when she is in recovery. You head down to the cafe. Marvel that a hospital canteen can be so unhealthy. The staff in their uniforms ploughing through great mounds of chips. You write a blog, check your Twitter feed. Two hours passes. You check your phone. No missed calls. The same half an hour later. After three and a half hours, you head to the hospital reception.

'Is my daughter in recovery yet?'

'No, they tell you. Still in surgery.'

You wander the hospital corridors. All those safely journaled fears come bubbling to the surface. At four hours, you find yourself in the hospital chapel staring into the stained-glass face of Jesus. Once you would have raged against the the possibility that things might be going wrong. You'd prayed. Why didn't God do what you'd asked? Years down the track and at a different place in your faith journey you know bad things happen to good people all the time. Today, one of them might be happening to your daughter.

In the filtered light of the chapel windows, the call comes. The surgeon says your daughter has lost a lot of blood during surgery. Four litres. You wonder how much blood a body needs. They have managed to collect and transfuse the blood but your daughter will need a night in ICU. The procedure has gone well the surgeon tells you, his voice gentle. This is nothing to worry about.

You try not to worry sitting in the ICU waiting room. And when you see your daughter wheeled past in a tangle of cables, monitors and and oxygen lines. You try not to worry later on when you are allowed to visit her. You look around the ward at people suspended between trauma and recovery. Most of are old, their bodies twisted by illness and time. You wonder how your daughter has ended up in such a place.

You learn a great deal in ICU. As one night turns into three, you realise so much can go wrong. Kidneys don't take kindly to blood loss. When they fail, there is nothing the doctors can do to start them again, only manage the symptoms and wait for the body to remember its lines. You pray. Though, you scarcely know where to begin. Though, once or twice you do inform the Almighty that you don't much like the way things are unfolding. Yet, for all your disappointment you know ICU is a privelege, the possibility of such care beyond the reach of over half the world's population. As three nights turns into four, you consider the likelihood of missing your grandson's first birthday celebrations in Brisbane over the weekend.

Then, on day five it happens. The creatinine levels start dropping. The nausea and dizziness ease. You notice your daughter is smiling again. You wait, trusting this is the tide turn. That all those assurances the doctors gave you were in anticipation of this moment. You are not disappointed. Your daughter is wheeled up to the orthopedic ward. She is walking, eating, her kidneys are filtering. Leaving the hospital after visiting hours that night you walk past the hospital chapel. It is in darkness now. Only a single candle to mark its purpose. As you stand in the flickering candlelight, you know Jesus is there even when you can't see his face.

 

The dangers of Google diagnosing

Watching a parent age is a gruelling process especially when the change is sudden and dramatic. Over the last few years, I’ve seen my mother become increasingly sick and debilitated. I would like to say I’ve been a calm, supportive daughter. But I haven’t. I’ve coaxed, cajoled, heckled, lost faith, made appointments with various specialists, booked her into Falls Clinics, and at times raved and ranted in frustration. In between, I have used my Google diagnostic skills, to give mum the great benefit of my advice. Even waiting to see a new orthopaedic surgeon last Monday I was still lecturing.

‘Now, mum,’ I said, ‘an operation won’t help unless you are prepared to do some exercise.’

‘I do exercise, Elizabeth.’

‘You’ll have to do more. There’s no point getting your hip replaced if you are going to stay in bed all day.’

‘I’m trying Elizabeth. But I feel so ill…and tired.’

Mum has two prosthetic hip implants. The first operation was a success. Although mum would never run a marathon she was happy with her level of fitness and was able to walk without pain. The second, her right hip, has been a different story. Seven years on from the operation, the leg remains heavy, numb and weak. Mum can no longer walk unassisted. She has been forced to move into supported accomodation. A simple visit to the shops is a major undertaking. Hence, last Monday’s visit to the orthopaedic surgeon. Mum had organised it off her own back. I thought it was a waste of time. Her problems, I had concluded, were due to inactivity and loneliness. Or so thought…

The orthopedic surgeon was thorough and firm. He made mum walk without her frame and climb trembling onto the examination table. He prodded and manipulated her hip. Mum cried out. His eyes narrowed. He knew mum’s medical history. That she had been fitted with a DePuy’s prosthetic hip implant in 2007. Back behind the desk, he said:

‘I’ll need to do some tests.’

Stubborn to the last, I asked. ‘Wouldn’t mum be better off seeing a physiotherapist?’

He said: ‘Your mum is in pain.’

‘So in the worst case she will need revision surgery?’

He paused as if measuring his words. ‘You don’t know much about DePuy’s hip implants do you?’

I didn’t, I had to admit. I knew the product had been recalled. Mum had submitted to the obligatory blood tests. Been pronounced healthy. Though the hip wasn’t perfect and she kept falling over, it couldn’t be affecting her general health, could it? I mean, they don’t install dangerously faulty products, surely?

‘Watch Four Corners,’ the surgeon told us. ‘Tonight’s programme is about DePuys hip implants.’

I never watch Four Corners. Or TV in real time. But that night at 8:33 AEST I tuned into the ABC. For the next hour, I watched story after, sick, crippled and in pain, story of infection, disability, cancer and in some cases death. It seems Johnson and Johnson, the developers of the DePuys hip implants, have been negligent in their testing and slow to respond feedback. It is alleged that, due to low clearance between parts of the implant, metal shavings are coming away and poisoning people from within. When patients eventually submit to revision surgery, the muscles around the hip are found to be dead, rotten, and putrid.

I called mum. ‘Sorry, Mum. I had no idea.’

‘Nor me,’ she said.

‘Lucky we signed up for the class action.’

‘Yes.’

‘And so far no tumours.’

‘Not that we know of,’ she replied.

Mum now faces a barrage of tests. She has appointments booked with a respiratory specialist and a neurosurgeon. In addition, the orthopedic surgeon surgeon has scheduled her for MRI’s and a number of other more specific scans. He seems determined to get diagnosis and quietly confident of what the tests will reveal. I suspect he is also trying to determine whether mum can survive another operation. For my part, I have given up Google diagnosing and put my life coaching and lecturing skills on hold for the time being.

 

Our great big family wedding anniversary

Back from a week of sand, sun and poor phone reception, surrounded by the people I love most in the world – my brother and his family back from Malawi, Africa, the kids and various partners, our first grandchild (who possibly is the cutest baby in the world) and a good friend who joins us on most family holidays. We had fifteen people at the height of the week with a contingent opting for the comparative serenity of the local caravan park. Despite debates, daily planning meetings, big dinners, a shared bath room, and regular, hush-baby, sleep times, it somehow still managed to feel relaxing.

While on holidays, Andrew and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary.

A bit of a strange way to spend such a significant anniversary, you might think. Yet somehow apt, seeing as I spent my first wedding anniversary in a hospital maternity ward having recently given birth to our eldest son, Jack. With four children, three exchange students and a couple of other young women who also bunked in with us on separate occasions, they have been significantly child filled years.

Andrew and I went out for lunch to celebrate, of course, and there was an exchange of cards and gifts, as expected. But the big surprise was Jack facilitating an impromptu, Denton style, interview on the eve of our wedding anniversary. We talked about the highlights (all present in the room) and the difficult times, how, looking back, those difficult times were all quite normal, and yet they didn't feel normal at the time. How sometimes we were just hanging in there because we said we would, at others because it all made sense. How various health problems have been taxing over the years, yet, strangely, this has also strengthened our marriage. How the four years we spent in Fiji expanded our view of life. How immensely proud we are of our children, how raising them has been our commonest interest, and how glad we are to have put the time and energy into building those relationships. How happy we are to have moved to Coburg. Yet some nights Andrew still looks around the empty dinner table and asks, so, where are the children? How the years have gone by as if in the twinkling of an eye. How the next thirty are going to present significant age-related challenges. That we are currently trying to work out new common interests and how, somehow, in the midst of it all, God has been present to us.

At the conclusion of our 'interview,' I asked my brother, Ian, to pray for us. He said, he thought the children should also be part of that blessing. So, they were, right there in that living room, with tears and choked voices and with ordinary, not-so-awkward silences, and in their prayers, we tasted the fruits of our thirty married years.

 

The week that was and the week still to come…

This week I've spent the week on the sick list and through the barking, snuffling, feverish experience they call viral bronchitis I have learned two important truths about myself.

  1. I am a slow learner. No matter how many times I catch a virus I always approach it with the same mix of blind, stubborn, denial, determined to soldier on despite any prior evidence of military bearing. I go to work, on Panadol, infect half my colleagues and end up in a pick-up-sticks heap the following morning and all the while in the background my poor, long suffering husband is saying: you're sick Liz, take a break go to the doctor's.
  2. I am an extreme pessimist. No matter how many times I recover from a virus I always suffer it with the same last-dying-breath attitude. In dazed, disbelief I wander through the week convinced, despite all medical assurances, that for me there is no hope of recovery.

As you can imagine, with these two attitudes in operation, I always need twice the recovery time of other population members. This week has been no different (so much for cognitive behavioural therapy). However, for once, I don't need to stress about the need for additional recovery time because we are going on holidays. Now, when I say holiday I don't mean me, Andrew and Biskit the dog. I mean a family holiday with all ten of us in a hired house at Port Arlington.

Yikes, I hear you say and, well, my thoughts exactly. We will have two opinionated academics in the house, a son and son-in-law that relish an argument, a teething baby, his sleep deprived parents, a daughter who left home at the age of sixteen and, frankly, hasn't regretted it, two teenage boys, a family friend who likes a drink, or three, a social worker (always analysing) and a physiotherapist (checking our postures), ravenous seaside appetites, sunburned noses, big noisy dinners, various theological and political hobby-horses, and a lifetime of niggling habits and petty annoyances. What's that? You'd like to come along. Be my guest. But seriously, I may need a holiday to recover from my post viral holiday.

Fortunately, despite these significant traumas, past and anticipated, I am now almost recovered from my virus. So almost recovered, that yesterday I was able to spend a few hours working on my novel. This may seem like cheating, seeing as yesterday was supposed to be a library day. You will note, however, that I said almost and a few hours added to which, the doctor said, don't go back until fully recovered.

The upshot of these few stolen hours is that I've now almost finished the complete re-write of my novel. And I have to say, writing the second half has been much easier than the first, blood-from-a-stone half of the experience. Why? A return of early promise? Or simply a greater willingness to press delete? The jury's out on that one. But it reminds me of a an analogy Kate Morton once drew in an interview. She said at first writing a novel can be like dragging a kite bumping along the ground, until it is up and airborne, then it can almost feel like the kite is flying itself.

Now, I don't know that my novel will ever fly as high as Kate Morton's but I do know that this draft is a hell of a lot better than the last one. Fortunately, I also have writing friends willing to critique my work and a trusted manuscript assessor ready to take my payment, which means I should be on track to start submitting by mid-year.

<insert trumpet fanfare and great excitement in the publishing community>

But first, I have to survive the family holiday.

At this point, please note, if you are a burglar and reading this blog, Biskit the family dog will not be coming on holidays with us and, despite his fluffy, Sorbent soft appearance, he is an exceptionally good guard dog (not). Added to which, we will have a big, rugby playing Fijian house-sitting in our absence. Oh and, by the way, I won't be blogging from Port Arlington (I find it hard to write under the influence of minor tranquillisers).

So, I'll see you when I've recovered from my post-viral, family holiday.

 

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