Sunday, October 22, 2006

One handed typing

... and no, it's not related to many people's reason for using the internet!

i'm avoiding turning this into a litany of injuries. suffice to say that i'm on the patient end of things for at least a week and hence may be spending somewhat more time at my computer than recently.

So hello there, how's life for you?

Monday, July 24, 2006

International Wig Day

The signs appeared the day prior. No further information supplied. Just clipart poster and a huge pile of wigs.

Oh, the possibilities...

First I went for a long chestnut ponytail. But it was too tame - I was told it looked like my own hair. And I've been watching Kath & Kim recently.

So I went the complete opposite of tame. Took it home in order to figure out the hair flattening arrangement and to get used to the idea. Dressed up a little the next day, heels, stockings, the lot. And my new crowning glory - a sleek electric blue bob.

Funny to walk down the street as another person. My new identity flashed out for my fellow commuters, who responded with definite Not Staring. Making a statement is a little meaningless amongst strangers.

The walk into work was a different story. A whole institution - and that slight fear you get before a fancy dress party, that no-one else will have joined you. Colleagues I've never talked to suddenly grin - but aren't really sure what to say. They think it my real new look, a bold but perhaps ill advised move. A wash of relief crosses their faces as I proclaim International Wig Day and they don't have to think up creative compliments.

At our usual morning meeting, the whole team is unrecognisable. Green curls, long blonde locks and afros are the order of the day. We all swagger and stalk throughout the day, our inner drag queens out on show. The kids love us; parents forgive us. We are the showstoppers we imagine ourselves to be.

Out for the afternoon, I take it off. Home on the tram, back in grey Melbourne. The world sags a little, the sparkle washed out by the rain, until I spot another colourful rebel through the crush of people. 70ish, she sits resplendent in buttercup yellow suit, pink boots, fuschia hair.

It heartens me to know that although every day is wig day for some, they also sometimes use it to let out their inner Queen.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pescan depression

My fish is sulking.

Now, this fish used to be a bully. It's been lord of the tank for years, although recently not had any subjects. Its behaviour consisted of biting others, bounding up and down in anticipation of food and headbutting the glass walls. He's happily weathered being called Antigone despite a change of gender (this having occured by simply a change of house and with no apparent anatomical basis) and the occasional leap of faith - most recently being found by my kind fish-sitting friend on the carpet, having been there for an unspecified length of time. This Acquired Brain Injury has had no visible ill effects - but I guess a short-term memory loss hasn't changed the situation much.

Anyway, the fish is no longer interested. He sits at the bottom of the tank, an occasional fin-flap letting us know he's alive. The chilled water may have put him into hibernation (our house having no heating and all) but I have another theory.

The bully has got a taste of his own medicine. Two of my housemates - who, I acknowledge, are largely responsible for the survival of this fish by supplying food much of the time - have fessed up. You know who you are.

You may recall my recent Whale Shark expedition. At the end of this day, to prove our bravery, we were presented with a shiny certificate and a rubberised Whale Shark figurine. Now, my own Whale Shark joined the menagerie of farm animals and Yowies overseen by Hagrid that is a feature of our ever-stylish household decor. The Other Whale Shark, arriving into the state a week later, was placed atop the glass fish tank cover, casting a menacing shadow into the tank. After protest, he was repositioned alongside the tank, at about fish eye level. Poor
Antigone suddenly had a competitor for power.

After a few days of submissive behaviour, another housemate thought a bit of stimulation was required. The only tank ornament happens to be a bright red glass seahorse, the fish equivalent of one of those scary after-the-hunt still lifes (lives?) on the wall. Imagine a routine day at the office, swimming along, trying to keep your head down lest your new boss pounces, when the art on the wall suddenly springs to life and attacks. Chases you around the tank, to be precise.

I'm actually quite proud of my fish in this circumstance - he cooly turned his back and faced the wall. But I think he's, quite rightly, developing an unacceptable level of anxiety.

So, this is a plea for any aquatic psychologists to come forward. His wellbeing depends on it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Giggle of the morning

A sign on Royal Parade, after careful adjustment, now proudly proclaims the way to the:

State Hotball & Neckey Centre

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I just got a phone call from France.

I've got ones from London before, and have made lots from various places, including a Christmas call from a hot Zambian hospital and surveilled (?) sat phone ones from rural Burma, code name Rio de Janeiro. But to get my friend's french accent on the phone is excitingly cool.

If only I'd been home.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Riding the waves

I've been experiencing the world in a slightly new way for the last couple of weeks.

You know what it's like to step off a boat, and still feel the ground swaying?

Or to be slightly tipsy, where you know which way is up, but can't quite stay that way?

Welcome to my world. I've been rolling along for about 12 days now. I did spend 4 days out on boats, so for those evenings I wasn't too concerned. But one of those days involved yet another example of hurting myself in a ridiculous manner.

Now, we all know how clumsy I am. What I have only just discovered is how bouyant I am. So bouyant that my dive instructor had to keep swimming up and adding weights to my jacket to prevent me bobbing away. So bouyant that I am able to float in a vertical position in salty water with my entire head out, without even moving. This is no doubt something that will serve me well should I ever be shipwrecked, however combined with the clumsiness it's a little dangerous.

Picture being out on a boat, lovely sunshine, turquoise water, searching for whale sharks. Picture thick wetsuit (= further bouyancy) and no weight belt, given that we're snorkelling today. Picture Mel stepping off the back of the boat, thinking to herself, "Step out a LONG way" and perhaps not quite taking as big a step as she should have.

Picture Mel bouncing right back up into the bottom of the (very solid metal) boat, skull to hull contact with a juddering crunch, being towed back in by muscly Divemaster and spending the next hour crouched on the deck, whimpering quietly.

Step Away From the Boat.

Since then, I've been all at sea. I can't seem to walk up or down stairs, down a straight hallway or even stand up in a reliable manner. And patient's parents are a little taken aback by the sight of an apparently drunken doctor approaching their precious child. And so, when that rolling sensation still had me holding onto walls a week after the fact, the Professional Paranoia kicked in.

Good news is, the pictures show my brain exactly where it should be. But we're still not quite sure what's going on. And as much as I love the ocean, do wish it would bugger off out of my head.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Backpacker breakfast

It's a bleary Sunday morning. The heat is winding up, the cockatoos are shreiking. We sit around the table with our borrowed mugs, gearing up for a day at the beach.

The Japanese girl eats rice, fried eggs, tinned tuna.

My German friend has jam with her rye toast.

The Americans slather their pancakes with peanut butter and "jelly".

And me, well, I'm a Weetbix kid.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Last tram home

She jumped on and looked around distractedly. Her jumper caught my eye: several runs in the knitting. As she plonked down opposite, I scanned her: one or two years older than me, handbag, shoes: not otherwise scruffy. Closer inspection identified the runs as artfully placed fakes.

She stared forward, away from me. Running her hands through her short hair, the skin on her neck flushed. That's when I noticed the shakes. She scrabbled through her bag and produced a tissue, surreptitiously dabbing at her eyes.

We sat for 2 stops. She crying, me deciding.

"Can I do anything to help? Are you OK?"

Surprised eyes turned my way. "No, it's OK, I'm... I haven't been myself lately. I can't... Don't worry."

"Do you need someone to talk to?"

"No, I believe in action rather than words."

"As long as you know which action to take."

Brief smile at this. "Yes." Looks away again.

Oh God, what action was she referring to? I pull the cord for the stop. "I hope you can find a positive way out."

"Yes, I hope so."

And off into the night.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The big weekend

No, not that one. The one before.

A few snapshots:

2pm Friday: cute Ishka boy stands much closer than is necessary, complements the earrings (?) and makes general innuendo. Buy too much and leave feeling conned.

1am Saturday: Loud club in cold, windy, newly developed part of town. Hen-ish night (in combo with Buck's), much family angst of said Hen due to not being able to attend her own party until after 10pm. Drinking in accordance.

2:30 am Saturday: home. Keys are not in bag. Why? Ponder this. Not usual bag. Front door remains very locked.

Brainwave: break in through garage. Door locked. Some noisy wangling doesn't work. Back to front of house. Rattle own bedroom windows ineffectually.

Try garage again: success!

Back door locked. Am now locked out and in backyard. Can see lights on inside. At least outside toilets come in handy sometimes.

2:45 Saturday: Dig out mobile and call the house.
Leave plaintive "help-me" message on machine. Hang up to see shuffling housemate emerge from room. Apologise profusely but, I fear, the sincerity somewhat diminished by drunken state.

Saturday afternoon: drag myself late to all planned events. In warehouse in back blocks of Fitzroy, find desk. Feel that have at least acheived something in day.

11pm Saturday: bubble bath. Party? Not me.

8am Sunday: jubilant phone call from new-mother-best-mate. Twins! Celebrate then go back to sleep.

6pm Sunday: Said Hen & Buck tie proverbial knot in wonderful ceremony, rightfully jettisoning all traditions they couldn't care less about. Proceed to party and actually talk to guests.

4am Monday: The party Who Do Not Work Tomorrow carry on. New high heels on cobbled streets. Gin Palace. Stalactite's. Fried cheese. Someone mentions Boutros Boutros Ghali and it's all over bar the shouting in the taxi.

8am Monday: Alarm. Oh shit. Poorly thought out car service booking. Make it to dealer, back on tram, sunglasses glued to face and holding stomach inside by sheer force of will. In retrospect may not have been at optimal driving sobriety.

7pm Monday: make it to lectures, the picture of a dedicated student.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


This is a double celebratory post.

First, congratulations to M & M, for the safe arrival of their TWO baby girls on Saturday night. Welcome to the world, and may the journey be joyous.

Second (going chronologically here), raise a glass to J & M, who despite protests made a lovely bride & groom on Sunday evening. Enjoy the honeymoon and the years to come.

A weekend of cheer!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sam's appeal

As I mentioned previously, a friend from uni is currently working at Mae Tao, a clinic on the Thai-Burma border providing health care for the Burmese population.

Well, he's just put this up on his blog. A 13 month-old boy in need of a heart operation.

This is - a friend who I trust
- working in a clinic that i've seen, the leader of which has been nominated for a Nobel Prize
- with a child whose life can be turned around
- who is from a population that I spent last year trying to help.

Please have a read and contact Damien if you want, or you can contact me for details too.

As Damo has said: Why?
Because we can.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The idea of study

Last year was all about practicalities.

What antimalarial drugs to I give to a pregnant woman?
What should I look for in leptospirosis?
What's the dose for this TB medication?
How do I explain how to mix up the food supplement to women who do not own measuring jugs or scales?

This year, it's all about theory. Or, that's the theory.

I'm sick of knowing enough to work. Of scrabbling for the guidelines whenever a new situation arises. Of knowing what to do, but not being really sure why.

I'm ready to feel confident in my knowledge base. To be able to work things out, given that I know about how x affects y. To know enough to base my decisions on evidence rather than what I've been told. In short, to know a good summary of what there is to know.

Unfortunately, this takes a hell of a lot of work. I'm ready to study, but I'm not ready to spend the majority of my free time in front of a textbook. I what to know what the evidence is, but I can't face the journal articles. I'm certainly not so excited about spending the next 12 months at a desk, to then potentially have to do it all over again, when, like so many excellent, knowledgable doctors, I could fail the exam.

I want to know stuff but have a life, dammit! My lifelong study technique of cramming won't cut it this time.

The question is, will I feel any different in a year?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Back in business

After two months, a lot of angst, and many fruitless hours, I have accessible internet at home.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday night


10pm Friday. Could be out - movies, dinner, dancing...

But really, tim tams and the world wide web are about as much energy as I can muster.

1 week left of this job. It's been worthwhile, and I've learnt lots, and enjoyed stuff too (not that recent blog entries reflect this, I know). But the emotional batteries were already rather drained and January didn't recharge them as much as I'd thought. Now, it's a matter of enough sleep, proper meals, friends and getting through...

Good notes to balance the crap:
Being able to see the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony live! Well, the rehearsal, complete with duck, and a random sound guy standing in for Delta & choking on all the firework smoke. Thanks M!

Being thanked by 2 patients.

Also had weird conversation with patient's mother, who ran through our whole (large) team, correctly picking who had kids & who didn't by their approach. I had her stumped. I'm taking this as a compliment - seems I can relate to the kids / teenagers but not parentally!


Running in to 8 different colleagues that I haven't seen in ages, & feeling part of the community of this hospital.

Interactions with my Dad. Thanks!

Considering where I should spend my 5 weeks off.
Options already considered:
- Thailand
- Burma
- France
- London
- Thailand
- Burma
- Thailand
All of the above excluded due to financial & being-sensible-re-above-emotional-drainage-and-culture-shock issues. Have 2 engagements in Victoria already and am thinking Oz will have to be the answer.

Suggestions welcome...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Helicopters flying to heaven

Today, we mourn two young lives.

As much as it's unfair, we play favorites. And these two were up there for me.

A baby girl, facing her challenges with an angelic smile and
fierce stamina.

A toddling boy, grown so much since we met, playing footy on the grass near my house.

Today, there are two holes in the universe, and in my heart.

My tears spent, and with the golden afternoon hours ahead, I sit in the light, with sun-warmed figs and a glass of wine. I read a picture book, for them. For what they cannot do for themselves.

Go well.

Monday, March 13, 2006

In other words

Mae Tao Clinic is in Maesot, north of where I was working but with the same issues. It was started by Dr Cynthia, known throughout the border area for her ability to care for the Burmese population with few resources. My mate from uni is currently working there and his blog makes me laugh and ache with renewed grief for those I worked with.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

So, the breakdown I had to have occurred.

In fact, I was beginning to worry that it hadn't yet. After my first foray into the world of medical work, I had a wonderfully relevant supervisor who confided to me that she cried by the Thursday of any new job. Once she realised that this was normal, it wasn't nearly so disturbing when it happened.

So, the second week of the job, I worked 60 hours, went to 4 hours of lectures, bought some textbooks, got scratched by a patient, helped pick up the pieces after several young people tried to kill themselves, told a family their perfect new baby has a scary lifelong diagnosis, and I was still cruising. Exhausted, yes, but relatively intact. To the point where I was wondering how numb I had become.

But this Tuesday, meltdown occurred. I held it together for the first hour of work before the floodgates opened. The poor temporary receptionist in our office crept away from my soggy blathering, however my current supervisor was wonderful. And it all came out - the wierdness of hospitalising patients for being 10kg heavier than most of my previous patient base, not knowing anything, the emotional strain of battling people who don't want to be helped, being behind everyone else in study, forgetting how to talk Medical, my renewed doubts about decisions last year the more experience I get...

By the afternoon, I had almost recovered. Able to go to a lecture and actually absorb something. And the major benefit of a study group is already apparent: the others feel that they are behind & don't know anything either.

So, this weekend will involve sleep, newspapers, walking in the sunshine and cooking. And maybe a little study, of the reading for interest's sake kind.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hospital shock

How do 4 patients manage to take up my entire day?

Why are radiologists not scary any more, but medical students are evidently terrified of me?

Who dared to invent the pager, and can I have their address?

Why do all the cars stop between Burke and Warrigul roads?

How on earth do I correct a calcium?

And just what is a normal weight, anyway? 35kg may get you into hospital here, but it was half my previous population!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Settling in 2: boxes

The process of unpacking is one that I've never been much good at. I still have boxes that have been untouched for at least 8 years. I always have the best of intentions, but...

This time, I have a strategy. The house has an enormous shed, a corner of which I can use for that elusive thing: storage! I have visions of a clear room - floor space, no pile of boxes in the corner, no jam-packed assortment spilling out from under the bed.

But, in order to achieve this, there's a lot of work to be done. Nothing goes into the shed without being sorted first. This has worked so far - but I start work next week. Methinks it could be a long-term project.

In recognition of the others who helped me with all this Stuff in the past year, another round of thanks, for use of sheds and attics and garages: B, T, D, D & L, J, and C for fish sitting.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Settling in

Well, am well and truly back in Melbourne now. Have a house (my room full of boxes), a job to start next week, and am started on the round of catch-ups. Have managed not to bite off too many peoples' heads in response to inappropriate comments (mostly along the lines of, "How was Thailand, pretty filthy?) and have only brought up the subject of AIDS deaths at a cocktail party once (in my defence, the just-met acquaintance asked me. She'd just told me about working in rural Africa. So I took her interest to be genuine - and answered truthfully. Still a wonderful conversation stopper). I've had far too many conversations about housing prices, done my tax return, slept a lot and started stocking the pantry.

So, let me thank the C family for generously allowing me to stay at their place for a couple of weeks, D for lots of support and drives to and from the airport, and R & C for the unenviable task of helping me move on a rainy day. Many thanks, or as I would say for the last 9 months but will be understood by nobody, Tanguna pomelon rahao.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Been thinking...

I have ongoing uneasiness about the recent posts, and what I had been planning. I've discussed this with a few people, most of whom have encouraged me to continue, but the feeling has remained.

So, I'm not going to tell you about those people after all. Perhaps later. Or never, I don't know.

My main issue is the potential impact it might have. I'm not paranoid, but I'm realistic about how Burma operates. In reality, I'm probably typing to a small groups of friends and acquaintances (hello out there!) which is lost in the overwhelming dross of cyberspace. But there's the miniscule chances that someone else may be reading (Mingalaba to you) and that what I say could be taken in the wrong spirit, and dramatically affect someone else.

If so, I might never know. And there's absolutely nothing I could do about it. So, I'll put on hold any further discussions until I've had time to consider further, fictionalise a little and gained a little more perspective. Until then, I'll have to think of other diversions.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Telling people's stories part 1

I am nine years old. I don't remember my mother. My father is a vague blur, he died when I was 3. I have been living here, in the clinic, since then. The staff look after me - give me food and make sure I am polite when the doctor arrives. I have my own plate and cup, which we keep separate from the others, and I have to take medicine every day. The staff are nice but they built a wall so I don't accidentally touch them when we sleep, and the kids at school won't play with me. They say that I have a disease, something very bad. I don't feel sick, I don't understand.

Recently, another lady came to the clinic and she looks after me. I can sleep in her house and share her food. She brushes my hair and likes my drawings. She tells me stories in the language of my father. I've never had a mother before.

But she says that she can't keep looking after me. It is too much for her, she can't take me back to live with her family. I will have to go to stay somewhere else. I am growing up. And everyone is scared.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Flowing on from the previous post...


These people have told me their stories, and I have not had express permission from all of them to use them. They are living in a restricted, oppressive society that could see them being persecuted. But exactly because of this, I have been asked many times - what do you hear about Burma? why doesn't the world do something? do they know what happens here?

So, I am protecting people by changing names, places, and in some cases blending elements from different people. This doesn't make it any less true, just less identifiable. I believe that these people want their stories told. There are others, whose stories may be more shocking, about whom I will stay silent.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I'm about to start telling you a bit about some people I've met over the last 10 months. It's going to be tough. Read them if you want, don't read them if you don't. But these are people whose faces I see perfectly in my head as I write. Above all, don't dismiss them.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yay! I can finally get the photos to work! So you know what that means...

Angkor was amazing. Here's a small selection. This guy above is one of the guardians of the Royal City (Angkor Thom). At the south gate, huge buses squeeze through the gate intended for elephants with only millimetres to spare. But if you cycle north, this one stands in the forest, with a few cows for company. Posted by Picasa
Apsara - or Celestial Dancers. We hired a guide for the first day whose approach and evident dislike of both the Thai and the French didn't endear him to us. The story is that these beautiful sprites were created during the battle between Gods and Demons for the Milk of Immortality. They effectively had a tug-of-war, each group holding half of the Naga, and in the process twirled the central mountain (Mt Mara?) with Vishnu presiding. This twirling stirred up the Sea of Milk, and the spray became the Apsara. My unfamiliarity with this story and the accent of the guide - and by this stage, I'm not so bad with accents - meant that it took an inordinate amount of time for me to figure out what the hell "churnintsi ovmilt" meant. Posted by Picasa
The photo I had to have. Yes, Tomb Raider fans, this is the place.Posted by Picasa
Sunset from the top of the hill, the name of which escapes me at the moment. Succesfully avoided including any of the several hundred other people up there at the same time. Posted by Picasa
Walkway around the southern side of Angkor Wat. Posted by Picasa
Apsara dancer's hand. Posted by Picasa
All may seem tranquil and contemplative, but they're really hiding from their supervisor to have a smoke. Posted by Picasa