The kind of reviews I’m getting…

In case you missed them, these are the kind of reviews I’m getting:

“I think the most important message I take away from this biographical account is courage is key in facing any adversity. Rachel’s harrowing ordeal has–if anything else–been a lesson in humility, determination, perseverence and the importance of the love of family and friends.

The writing is clear and penetrative. The fact she slowly typed this out letter by letter on an iPad only shows how determined and courageous she has been in telling her remarkable story. The best part is the reader doesn’t have to have gone through anything like what Rachel has endured to appreciate the book. Rachel’s struggle is the struggle so many have gone through as part of life. There is a universal resonance to make this book relevant to readers everywhere.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who might be convalescing, wherever they may be, to serve as inspiration and encouragement.”

or

“Friends and family – I urge you to download this book or buy a paperback version from Amazon and read it asap! I just finished reading it over a 36hr period (a PB for me)…it is written by my friend Rachel who 4 years ago, suffered a brain-stem stroke (age 41, mother of three kids, wife and running her own law practice) which left her with locked-in syndrome. That means that her only communication was by eye movement (look ‘up’ for yes, down for ‘no’) Slowly and surely, and with hours of rehab each week, she is gaining more movement and has amazingly written this memoir of her journey – all by using one finger to type!! I’ve learnt, by reading the book, that she doesn’t think she is amazing or inspirational, however she truely is! Rachel Capps 😘❤️🙌”

or

“Rach, I just finished reading your book… wow!! It was incredible!! What an amazing insight into what you have been through and still go through. I am speechless and very humbled, your strength and courage despite the odds is inspirational. Working in a school, we often have to try and show kids how to flip negatives into positives and you have done this and continue to do this over and over under what most of us would see as the hardest, most terrifying of circumstances. You are bloody amazing and I need to come see you soon to give you the biggest hug and personally thank you for sharing your story. How lucky am I to say that I’m related to someone as awesome as you!! I love you lots ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️”

or

“Just finished reading this book written by a client of mine who had a brainstem stroke who I had the pleasure of meeting and working with at Nepean Hospital in my days working as an OT in ICU & the Acute Stroke Unit. What an inspiration you are Rachel and what an incredible journey you are on. Your courage, motivation, strength and determination is absolutely incredible.

This book is excellent and I would highly recommend reading it. It provides such a valuable insight of experiences from a patients perspective and really demonstrates how those of us who work in the health and disability fields can sometimes become a little immune or de-sensitized in a way to the often terrible situations that we encounter each day in our working lives.

This book provides a vital reminder of just how frightening a time the patient is actually going through in their life and really emphasizes the importance of empathy.

I think that due to my own personal experiences and challenges, that I have and use empathy well in my practice as an occupational therapist when I am working with clients, but this book definitely served as a welcome reminder. I thank Rachel for writing this book and sharing her incredible journey and appreciate the mammoth effort it would’ve been for her to write this book.”

 

or

“If you are looking for holiday reading Rachel Capps has published a book on Amazon (download for just over $5! and if you download the Amazon app read it on your device).
Rachel suffered a catastrophic stroke several years ago and against all odd she has managed to write her story – she is wheel chair bound and has locked in syndrome which means she has lost her speech and much of her motor skills. But her cognitive function is still in tact so she is able to communicate by iPad. She has written a book about her journey since her stroke – it isn’t an easy read to learn about someone’s suffering and pain but Rachel writes the story with humour and demonstrates her strength of character. It is a fantastic read and highly recommend it!”

or

I just finished. Omg its amazing.”

or

” Bought it, read it. I couldn’t put it down.”

Thanks to everyone who read it, I’m pleased you enjoyed it! Available on Amazon here if you want to know what a stroke feels like.

FES Bike

In my book, I refer to an “FES bike”. This is a notoriously clever device.

It stands for Functional Electrical Stimulation, which means the pads I wear are programmed to provide electrical pulses to my muscles at the precise time my muscles need to be stimulated during revolutions of my ride. Super clever, huh?

This is what it looks like (that’s part of the tilt table behind it):

bike

My book, if you’re interested, is available on Amazon here.

Third Chapter

Chapter 3

My eyes open and its night. The lights are off. There is a ‘beep-beep’ coming from behind my head, steadily in rhythm with my breathing. The muscles in my hand contract. Shrink. My body changes, forever deforming, and I watch helpless … a spectator. My hands become shrunken claws, with nails, before my eyes. Fear tightens across my chest. I start to panic. I struggle to breath. The beeping gets faster. Someone says, “You’re okay. Try to calm down. The beeping is your heart rate.”

Tubes sprout from me. A tube is stuck to my nose and, from there, I’m told the tube goes into my stomach to feed me. In my neck is the trachie to help manage the secretions in my lungs, explained to me earlier. A catheter clips to my bladder and the bag is nearby. There is oxygen but within weeks I’m weaned off it. In my mouth a firm and cigar-like foam object are wedged between my teeth to keep them from causing further damage to my already swollen tongue. I look stung by bees. My face is puffed up and everyone tells me, but I can’t see. I can’t see my reflection in a mirror, nor could I ask for a mirror in my present state, even if I wanted to. The thought never crosses my mind. I notice there are no mirrors in the ICU.

I don’t remember any of the tubes being attached to me. That’s lost time I’ll never get back. When I was a teenager, my late Nan (my mum’s mum) often repeated to me “Always wear clean underpants. In case you’re hit by a bus”. I haven’t been hit by a bus, but life itself—head-on. I don’t even know what happened to my underpants. Probably cut off and binned. Importantly, I know they were clean. Thanks, Nan.

Dad squeezes my right leg and toes and asks if I feel anything. How is my perception of touch? I wish I could frown. Do people lose sensation? I’m lucky. Not me, I dodged that bullet. My perception’s like normal. I can’t blink—that’s too hard. I look up for ‘yes’. I pretend nothing has happened although to me the hallucination of my dad has rocked me to the core.

“Can you hear okay? It seems so…” Can I hear? Yes! I look up for ‘yes’. People lose hearing too? I am virtually unscathed compared to some.

“Don’t worry, it’ll come back,” he says. He means my leg. How can my leg ‘come back’? My leg is dead—freezing to the touch, grey and heavier than my left leg. Gravity crushes it—the heaviness of gravity is like a huge and invisible concrete block. I understand some basics of my body. There is no connection between my leg and my brain. If there’s any circulation it’s minimal, yet somehow, I live with a barely functioning leg. I live with a dead limb. How? Truly, despite the trauma I’ve endured, I’m amazed by my body. How can my heart manage to pump blood through my heart? Never ceases to amaze me. My brain remembers the essentials. Walking isn’t essential but my heart is.

Incredible. My body knows.

All I think is, if something bad is destined to happen to me—which it did—I’m glad it happened to me and not our kids. Thank God, they are physically unscathed—even if this will give them mental scars. To see them hurt would cripple my mind.

I am encouraged by everyone around me to imagine the future.

“We’re going to France to watch the Tour de France one day,” Shane insists.

As if.

“We’re coming with you,” adds my best friend Iesha.

So, I start imagining watching my daughter walk down the aisle and me standing up in church to watch her wedding. I imagine walking, holding onto bars, around a house. I imagine leaning on a shopping trolley around my local supermarket as I grocery-shop. I imagine sitting in a wheelchair with a book shoved down the side between my leg and the wheelchair arm in a kitchen. I imagine picking my kids up from school. These are images I run through my mind over and over. That’s a tall order. My uppermost priority is to be there for my kids.

Surely any mum would think that?

A man hesitantly approaches my bed. He’s tall with dark hair. There aren’t many faces I recall. Who’s this? A doctor? Only he’s not dressed like a doctor. A specialist? All of a sudden, realisation dawns. I’m used to seeing him with Iesha. It’s her husband Yuggi. D’oh. Why aren’t they together?

Next is my half-sister Lee with her husband. She’s due to give birth to her first baby any day. I’ll miss the birth—my first nephew. This is so wrong. She’s perched on the end of my bed, rubbing her baby belly. Glowing. Content.

Another friend and her husband pray over me.

One evening, a nurse looks at my tongue and the cigar I bite on to keep my mouth open.

‘We need to do something about that,’ she says.

She bustles away and organises people and equipment. Within an hour, my bed is pushed from my room.

“We’re going to do something about your tongue,” she says.

The next thing I know I stare over at my room as I yet again sink into blackness, a few hours of reprieve from the nightmare to which my life is reduced. I begin to long for the black nothing. I know I no longer fear death. I welcome it, but the prospect of not being around to watch my kids growing up quickly negates that thought.

I wake and the cigar is gone.

In the following days when I’m aware of my surroundings, at different times Shane and Dad comment how much better my tongue looks. I don’t know what the nurse does but it’s a change for the good.

I’m simply grateful to say goodbye to the cigar.

Next morning the fluorescent lights are on and I become aware I occupy a room all to myself. Everything is stark white. Me too. I wear a crisp starched white nightgown with the NSW Health blue stamp. I don’t remember changing from the last gown. I surface through a dark tunnel towards the light. Before I’m out of the tunnel, an alphabet chart is thrown in front of my eyes, held about a foot from my face. I can’t move. I can’t talk. I can’t blink. I can only look up or down. This doesn’t make sense. I’m healthy. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I’m not allergic to anything. There is nothing in my family history of stroke. How can I suddenly go from able-bodied to a lump on the bed? A dead lump? Unable to get up? Like a quadriplegic? I don’t understand. I thought a stroke only happened to older people. My lack of education on life is glaringly poor.

A lady in green explains how the board works and asks me to spell. The left side of the board is blurry and my vision moves side to side, so there are effectively two boards. I try to focus on one image. I barely manage to spell a word through my moving tunnel vision. I’m caught in the end scene of Grease, so it seems. When in doubt, I lie.

I quickly get the hang of the board but I find holding on to my concentration is hard work. Thoughts escape mid-word as I’m losing my train-of-thought all too easily. A nurse or family member calls out a letter of the alphabet and I look up once at the letter until they form a word. I instantly drop common manners. I can’t waste anyone’s time in the rat-race to spell out, ‘please’. I watch the nurses, family and friends come and go as they please. I can’t help envy them, going home to their life, laughing, holidays, social life and working but I stop myself. I can’t make life harder for the nurses, despite everything.

I go through a dozen different boards over the space of a year before we finally settle on one that works for me.

One of the first words I spell is: ‘t-o-u-r d-e f-r-a-n-c-e’. My family think I spell French. I don’t know French. I probably spell gibberish but I think I spell correctly. I find their silence on my potentially (is there any doubt?) poor spelling is a kindness. They don’t point out my mistakes. Too kind. I strive to be normal and they don’t shatter my feeble attempts. Ideally, I envisage being home, in bed, watching the Tour. I want to sit up late with Shane and have him try teach me cycling tactics. I yearn to do that, as normal.

I’m transported back to the day we stood in Paris behind silver barriers lining the Avenue des Champs-Élysées with one of Shane’s workmates—also Australian. For hours we waited in bright sunlight, dappled by shade, in a prime position as a parade of cleverly designed advertisements (people dressed up or balloon-cars) and sponsors paraded before us. Finally, the riders rode leisurely passed us before they got down to business and sped by a few more times. The blue of the US Postal team was there but the race was already won.

Lance Armstrong wore the yellow jersey. This was a day for the sprinters. Years later, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his win for doping. Personally, I think a rider who fought cancer can be forgiven. He still accomplished the unthinkable. Drugs can’t enhance performance that much—can they? I don’t know the facts though, so I just speak from my own ignorance.

Boy. That day the trio of us got sunburned … bad.

 

If you like, then please purchase on Amazon.

Second Chapter

May this book help other survivors and help their family and friends understand the possibilities of what a victim suffers.

And the horror continues…

 

Chapter 2

Ever since the age of ten, I dreamed of growing up to be a writer. I burst with excitement when my mum bought me an old black typewriter, which I perched on my blue and yellow Australia-map desk. I banged away at each key with such enthusiasm. There is something about the English language I never tire of. Practicality and romanticism, all in one. I was forever discovering new words, and with each new word, new horizons.

At around thirteen, Nancy Drew entered my life. Her books were my first hair-crush. For years afterwards, I tried to mimic her curls—soft and perfect around her face. Her dad worked from home as a lawyer. Oh, what an admirable way to work. I wanted to emulate him, channel his essence. Throughout my teenage years I planned stories, but writing seemed a pipe dream I couldn’t earn a penny from (I couldn’t show anyone, could I?) and in the fullness of time, I transformed into a sensible working adult.

I studied law—hard. The reading list boggled the mind. Text books averaged two inches thick and cost a bomb. I still enjoyed using language, and that was my compromise.

After nine years studying part-time, working full-time in a law firm and two years of practical experience at The College of Law, I became a lawyer, standing up amongst my peers in the Supreme Court in front of three wigged Supreme Court judges. I loved it, too. In my late thirties, I started a law practice from home.

By then, I’d met Shane, we were fortunate to have three kids and I managed to eventually work from home around them. Naturally, they hated my working despite my working from home.

The day after my first emergency visit to hospital, I’m told I was taken to hospital at six in the morning and suffered a stroke at three that afternoon. In a coma, I was flown by helicopter to Nepean Hospital, where there was a spare ICU bed. Jo had my phone and a few friends texted her, expecting to be texting me.

“Are you all right?”

My friends receive a blunt text back: “Rachel in coma. In ICU”.

News to rock their world.

I slip between semi-consciousness and waking.

A three month say in ICU begins. Seamlessly, I slip into unconscious and a scene in a capsule. I am one amongst many in a ride, in a circle with pods going around and up, only aware of myself. I’m reminded of being a teenager lifted up in a ride. The Zipper rolling over and over. Back then, I laughed. Trouble is this is reality turned upside down. Reality is no fun. My child’s view of the world vanishes.

I need to lift my limbs. Just lift them already. I try. But as much as I try, I can’t. Why won’t they work? My limbs are as heavy as an anchor and I can’t budge an inch.

I’m foggy, but conscious again and in a circle of patients. I hear the tearing of a bed-sheet, like someone pulls a tablecloth and leaves the dishes on top. A neat magic trick. One of the doctors screams at the nurses, annoyed. I recognise the voice of the doctor I like—she cares. Two patients die. I am unable to comprehend or make out what happens and too sick to care. Too disoriented.

I’m next.

I slide into my unconscious state again. I lie in a bed and bright shafts of golden sunlight stream in. I must be in Brisbane. Beside me, just out of reach—if I could have moved—lies a dog, perhaps a golden retriever. Am I awake?

The dog reminds me of the golden retrievers we grew up with. My brother Mark liked golden retrievers, so mum bred and showed them. So happy. So loving. So loyal. I miss them, especially Beau, our Goodo’s ad dog. All dead now.

Life goes on.

The dog stays by my side a while, its presence a soothing comfort.

I overhear a nurse speak to another patient who suspends a leg in the air, “What’s the first thing you found useful in hospital?”

She answers after a moment’s pause. “A shower.”

A preview for Magic Mike plays over and over, and after what seems an eternity the movie plays.

Haven’t I seen this?

I wake gradually, and snippets of reality stand out. Vivid. Clear and true moments. A female voice says, “You’ve had a stroke. Sometimes life throws these little curve balls.”

Little curve balls?

This is a monster curve ball.

A doctor tells me I need an operation. Only a small cut in the throat to insert a long, floppy tube—a tracheostomy. We’re in a small cubicle which is private. The doctor wears a blue surgical cap. Blue scrubs. Is that an English accent, I detect? I can’t ask. This bothers me, for I’d like to ask. After all I’ve just experienced, I crave any semblance of normalcy. I withdraw inside myself further. I can’t even voice my need. I can’t talk. Why bother? My mum says “Don’t worry about the scar.”

That’s the last thing I’m concerned about.

Eyes up to the doctor. I agree but I have no memory of the operation. I have a trachie[1] though.

Dad is beside me. Does he hold my dead hand? “We will walk out of here,” he says in a harsh whisper. I don’t believe him for a second but I’m prepared to try. I’ll give getting better my best shot. I’m confused by my hallucination as I believe it real and I need to tell Shane.

Shane strides into my room carrying flowers and says, “It’s only for a season.” I cry for all I’ve lost and at the work ahead of me—the enormity of the task ahead crushes me. “The doctors say you’re only young,” says Shane. No, I’m not, I’m forty-one. That’s no spring chicken.

A doctor says, “You’ll never turn a light switch on again.”

There is the repeated slap against skin, a snap, snap, snap—someone puts on rubber gloves. I’m lying on my side and a nurse has an intrusive gloved finger up my anus.

“It’s just there.” she says.

Months later, I find out from Shane, he’s been told ninety percent of people who suffer a brainstem stroke die, and even if I survive, I could die within the next four months, so not to get his hopes up. The chances are I will die. My family decides not to tell me directly of the diagnosis. A wise decision, indeed. My mind is so fragile, I’d talk myself into dying. I believe in the power of the mind, thanks to my mum.

[1]   The common name for the long, floppy tube from a tracheostomy.

 

Remeber, the book can be purchased on Amazon.

First Chapter

Stroke is real and can happen at any age. Even to an unborn child. There can be no warning until the symptoms become obvious (well, in my case). Even then, there’s no guarantees a doctor will recognise the symptoms. Mine didn’t.

This is my story.

Is this for you?

 

2013

Snug and warm in my bed, deep asleep. It’s May—late autumn in the southern hemisphere.

My world is jolted. I wake. The clock says its 6:00am but no light floods through our venetians (as usual) to indicate its morning. My ears strain to distinguish the Monday morning garbage truck clunks and revs in the silence.

Nothing.

Why am I awake?

My world starts to spin faster. A kid on a carousel that’s not slowing down would challenge this sensation. This isn’t normal. I try to bottle my rising panic as I lie there. My heart pounds. I’m terrified.

I call to my husband, Shane. He immediately wakes.

“You need to call an ambulance,” I tell him. I’m in control of my voice but I fear these may be the last words I speak to him. I know something is wrong, I just don’t know what. My eyes are squeezed shut.

My head spins even faster and I don’t dare move in case I spin more. My body is a wilful prone stone statue. I hate the spinning but it won’t stop. I sense this is not normal and my life is in danger. I try breathing deep to calm my nerves. It doesn’t work. Like a bolting, petrified horse, the panic escapes.

“I love you,” I blurt.

“I love you, too,” he says and leaps from our bed and, desperate, phones the paramedics. He stumbles over words in a hurry to convey our urgent need.

Within minutes, the paramedics arrive.

Yay, they’ll make me better.

With one eye open, I see a male paramedic in a blue uniform kneel by my bedside. He takes my limp hand and squeezes a small clamp on the end of my finger to measure my pulse. I’m still in control of my sight even if it’s moving. They ask general questions which I vaguely hear and Shane answers for me. I feel too sick to concentrate on forming words unless I have to. My hopes plummet. My symptoms baffle them and suggest I present vertigo but recommend I go to hospital. They ask if I can walk.

My ability to speak is on and off. I shake my head.

Hell, no.

They strap me to a thin stretcher and carry me with slow, gentle steps down the U-turn in our polished wood staircase, toward the ambulance. With every step they take, I vomit into a bag. My jaw snaps open and closed like the Hungry Hippo game. Teeth sink into my tongue, hard, over and over. I can’t stop the biting, even if I try. Please be over. Isabella, Joshua and Harrison stare at me in their caricature pyjamas, wide-eyed and uncomprehending, pale white faces with big confused eyes, riveted to the landing and eyes fastened to me.

I want to yell: “It’ll be okay!”

Only, I can’t. My mouth is full of tongue—shredded to pieces.

Auntie Barb is at the front door, dragged from her bed in the dark before dawn, ready to watch the kids.

In the ambulance I’m asked, “Norwest or Blacktown?”

Norwest is closer.

I somehow manage to mumble, “Norwest”.

I must try communicate because Shane stays in the house, sorting kids.

We gently turn corners in the ambulance because the paramedics think I have vertigo. Most of my ride is a blur but as we near the hospital (I know the streets well), I recognise bright orange street lights flashing overhead, one-by-one, as I lie on my back on the gurney. Fog lights. I know we’re close to the hospital. Then my world fades to black.

I don’t remember the ambulance stopping, doors opening, being pulled out and lowered to the ground or pushed through the hospital doors on my way to Emergency.

It must be six or seven in the morning by now.

The gaps in my memory are scary but now we’re at the hospital, I’m no longer afraid. The hospital will sort out whatever is happening to me. I vaguely recall a television ad saying to act FAST. Face Arms Speech Time. We acted fast.

I’m confused.

The gaps span hours. I lose track of time. All seems surreal.

A dream.

A nightmare.

Only, this is real.

I wake again. Thank God, my good friend and personal assistant Jo—a two-in-one person—is here. I don’t remember her arriving. A special client buys her first house today and she must settle. My client has booked her removalist, organised her electricity connection and her money has been gradually moved into my trust account (the banks only permit a certain amount be transferred by electronic transfer into my trust account and her purchase price is greater than the maximum, which isn’t much). We’d been moving funds for a week or more in readiness for settlement. My being sick will decimate all our careful plans. I desperately need to sign cheques before I lose the ability to write. Instinctively, I sense that’s next. The long and sloppy chequebook is in front of me. My fingers wrap around a pen. I put pen to paper.

I black out again.

I wake surrounded by strangers. Where am I now? I’m beyond being baffled. Beside me is a grey machine and nurses bustle around the corridor. I sense the machine is in a corridor and not a room. My throat is dry. I ask a nurse walking by me if I can grab a drink. She tells me no. I’m astounded. Flabbergasted. Why not?

My pyjamas have disappeared and I’m in a white hospital gown.

When did that happen? I can’t recall a thing.

I can’t even remember what I wore. Who cares? Normally, I am a lioness protecting my possessions and clothes, but my pyjamas are not important now.

Somehow I’m on a stainless-steel bed at the centre of the grey machine. Perhaps someone helped me onto it? My head enters a dome-shape machine which bangs at me—a machine gun beside my ear. The tiny space seems to get smaller.

I don’t recall returning to emergency.

My vision returns through a tunnel of inky blackness toward a pinpoint of light, growing bigger. I’m on a firm bed. Stainless steel too? I’m the only patient inside a small room and a doctor snatches a needle of something from the counter and rushes to my side. I want my kids. I start to sink into black but I’m not there yet, I see and hear a doctor say in a rush, “perhaps an allergic reaction?” This is it. I fall into the darkness. Warm. Unaware. Bliss. Like sleep, but without dreams.

What transpires next is so disjointed the moments can’t be real. I learn weeks later, hallucinations descend but to me they’re as real as daytime.

I’m in another small room, half the size of the last room. This room looks so real. I am in a hospital room. My oldest cousin and his wife stand by me while I’m upright in a grey machine that covers my limbs. I could be a scarecrow. Without the machine, I’d collapse. I know it. I resemble a person with broken arms and legs. My cousin and his wife hold buckets full of concrete. They pour the concrete over my limbs and don’t speak, not even to say “hello”. That’s out of character for them. They leave.

I am suspended alone in time.

The scene shifts. A thin, hard silver bed is cold against my back and I’m in a room full of hard beds, like morgue tables, row-by-row, all curtained off. A watery-yellow sheet drapes over me untucked and hanging loose. I remember the curtains and sheets being a pale autumn yellow. One whiff and the room smells sterile. The moment is vividly real to me. Ghosts float in my room, like Casper. Dozens of ghosts float above me—they lift my sheets, with a pinch, little tepees, around my limbs. They’re sticky-beaks.

Wait till I tell Shane.

One of them says to me “If you don’t lift a limb, they’ll remain dead forever.”

The hallucination shifts and I find myself on a stretcher in a loading dock. The walls are concrete and painted a pale yellow. A person pushes me toward a long black hearse. My instincts scream the hearse is meant for me. We stop and wait whilst I hang on. I ache to see my family again. My dad approaches with a brown jumper thrown over his shoulder.

“Thanks for doing this. Lee appreciates your help,” he says to a couple who I assume are my sister’s friends. “Her husband won’t want to be saddled with a cripple for life.” Are they waiting for me to die?

They acknowledge his thanks and he strolls away leaving me alone with strangers. Why is he leaving? I somehow know I must live through the night. Just don’t die. Don’t give up.

As the night wears on the girl comments.

“This isn’t a quick gig.”

“Yeah, she’s hanging in there,” the guy responds.

They tap away on their phones again. Time passes. The minutes tick by. Soon the sun streams through windows and I’ve managed to hang on. The hearse drives away.

Yippee.

What a relief.

 

Available to purchase on Amazon.

 

Christmas 2017 writing challenge

This year’s effort and I’d just like to make a disclaimer. This is pure fiction. I was trying to get into the mind of a teenager and have fun with it. It’s only short.

 

My mother always told me youth was the best time of my life. What did she know? Hell to the no – nothing. And Christmas simply oozed with the worst experiences of my paltry existence.

The morning had been tolerable. Just my mother and I opening presents. Then I’d disappeared to my room for some much-loved Buffy. Now, lunchtime neared and the time to chew off my right arm neared. At least, it posed more fun. And tasty.

There was a ‘knock, knock’ on the oak of our front door.

I opened the door to a Great-Aunt I only saw once a year, who waddling through and held her arms open, “Come ‘ere, dearie.”

I slinked into her suffocating hug and screwed up my nose.

Outside, the sun beat down and I sincerely doubted she’d remembered deodorant. God love her. I mean, how flipping thoughtful.

“Gosh, Tess, you’ve positively shot up!”

“Ye-“ I started.

And that was it – she was off. She brushed past me, but not before her dress clung to me then pulled free, as she headed down the hall and towards the kitchen. My mouth fell open. The rudeness still got to me every single flipping time. For, I’d bet money on that being the maximum of interaction I’d have all day – Thank God. Yet my mother, in her infinite wisdom, made me promise to sit through all Christmas dinner… a pork hot roast on a hot day.

Later, the house became an extension of the oven. Whose bright idea had a hot roast been?

Lunch dragged, dragged and dragged. So, I tried to make conversation, in an effort to alleviate the boredom:
“My teacher left-”

“That’s sad, dearie. Browyn, did you hear? Great Aunt Edith broke her hip?”

 

“Why, that’s positively dreadful!” my mother said, as she pulled a popping and bubbling pork from the oven.

“And you remember Cousin Peter? Well, he’s off to Thailand in March,” my Aunt frowned.

“Ooh, that’s exciting.” My mother kept her eyes on each roast vegetable as she spooned them onto our plates.

“And why is that exciting, might I ask you?” My Great Aunt stretched to her full height. “Why on earth go to Thailand, of all places? Why not go to… somewhere like, say, New Zealand?”

“I suppose they wanted-”

“Tess, dearie,” my Aunt scowled this time as she faced me. There wasn’t a trace of “dearie” in her voice. “Haven’t you heard? Children should be seen and not heard. Did I even ask you? I was speaking to your mother.”

I hung my head. “Sorry.” Flipping get me out of this nightmare, I thought.

I zoned out as the discussion turned to politics. Bloody politics. Could anything be any more exciting? Not. Watching grass grow would be more interesting. On Mars.

Finally, my Aunt stood up to leave. “Until next year.”

Can’t you make that five years? I thought.

Fast forward thirty years and my own kids are whining, “Do we have to?”

I relent, after years of torture.

They appear like cockroaches who come out of their rooms, eat, then vanish to the four corners of my house. Technology. Oh, what joys. Christmas day has become a lonely affair for me. My parents moved to Broome and my Great Aunt died, so it’s just me. The children’s father long since disappeared in the night.

And the kids no longer want to eat with me. They’d rather their teeth pulled out.

In hindsight, I’m reluctant to admit it, but my mother had been right. Youth was the best time of my life, but nothing will make me see how the torture of Christmas Day can be lumped in with those times.

I’d rather sit here alone than force my kids to do something they don’t want to do.

ICU Days

These are the bells I refer to in my memoir, Spades of Determination.

We were searching for a way for me to call the nurses, seeing as I could only move my left big toe, so pressing the buzzer was out! Man, that buzzer! Nurses must hear it in their sleep! Alas, I still wasn’t strong or fast enough to use my toe to ring the bell.

My friends did a nice paint-job, eh?

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