A Soft Touch

 

In mid 2013 I started knitting mum a blanket to go with the colours of her room in the carehome and to remind her of the sea. I started by knitting rectangles on 6.5mm needles with two strands of 8ply yarn. The yarn was all found in various hidden stashes in her home. Some bags of yarn date from over ten years before and were unopened.

You see Alzheimer’s slowly took all mum’s hobbies from her. She forgot how to knit. To sew. To garden. To write. She could still read simple short lists but marvelled at the writing on our calendars. Said it would be wonderful to be able to do that. 

In the mornings I used to take a cup of coffee out with a muesli bar onto one of the two balconies running the length of their house. There I would knit the rectangles undisturbed until dad got back from his morning constitutional. I was working on two blankets then. 

The next year my mum suddenly passed away and I had not been able to touch this until recently. However mum is free, her spirit released, her body freed of pain and her mind also.  So I am adapting these rectangles into a blanket mixing many shades together. I added Patons Inca to the mix which has wool and alpaca for warmth and provides a soft touch. It is being knitted on 10mm needles and as it adds up to 30ply I am knitting it in strips. So far in a few days I have almost completed the first strip.

I am so happy to be knitting again  My hands are not what they were as the joints have a lot of arthritis and there is Neuropathy too but knitting has been my passion since mum and I pulled down a jumper of hers and I knitted my first item, a jumper with lace cables and bobbles. I was fifteen. The bobbles were inside the lace pattern  Very complex. These days I am more into colour and texture than patterns. I am enjoying this blanket’s journey, who knows where it will end up?

 

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Greeted With Open Arms

A year ago today I was out very early in the morning in the garden deadheading my many buddleja, flowering Andean sage, nasturtium and hibiscus. It is the best time to do it as at other times the plants are always covered in fat bees and butterflies. I did not want to get stung and I have an ongoing conversation with the bees that they do not own the plants, I do!

By 10.30 I had showered and dressed carefully for my day ahead. The day was going to be a full one, firstly the dentist for an extraction of a very painful molar and later on in the afternoon a visit from a special friend. I easily caught the bus up to the dentist, had a lovely chat with the receptionist and was even able to give some requested advice to one of them about not having her scheduled surgery using gynaecological mesh. The dentist assistant was a lovely silver haired girl in her teens and the dentist was a fabulous female. Very gentle.

The extraction was difficult, involving curved roots that were immediately near the sinus cavity. I was warned if it perforated it would need surgical repair. However all was well and we all smiled with relief when it was over. I did have to be careful not to sneeze with my mouth shut for a few days though! As I bit down on some gauze I tentatively made my way over to the shopping centre to get some goodies for afternoon tea.

Then I walked home, not bad considering my Cervical Spinal Stenosis makes pressure on my neck …..difficult. Perhaps the dentist asking that the nurse hold my head made a difference. Once home I had a very milky cup of tea, an interesting taste through blood soaked gauze!

When I checked my messages my friend said his daughter was through sooner than he thought so they would be over early afternoon instead of late. I rang him and asked what time and he said they were in Belmont! And asked for directions! I replied I had no idea as I do not drive and isn’t that what Google Maps are for? In the background I could hear this delightful giggling coming from his daughter G and much chatter and fun going on between them.

So after I hung up I dashed to the bathroom and spat out the second gauze plug…no further bleeding so was very pleased. I whacked on some bright red lipstick and fluffed up my hair and made sure the bathroom was ready for guests. Luckily I always over prepare so the snacks were plated up. Fresh plump blueberries, Maltezers and some sort of biscuits, perhaps Tim Tams? And lots of Irish tea.

Almost as soon as I had poured milk into the jug of my lovely Maxwell and Williams afternoon tea setting I heard laughter, giggles and chatter. I made my way to the door, suddenly overcome with nerves. I need not have worried, I was greeted with open arms by J and introduced to his daughter, whom I hugged with less reserve. J chatting all the way inside and gladly accepting the offer of a cuppa.

This was a very special meeting, one delayed by many many years, almost a lifetime in fact. We had met by phone only when he helped me with my dad in 2014, which was the year mum passed away. Early the next year he retired and his kindness and his lovely voice was quite a loss to me, so after six months I contacted him and we became Facebook friends. This led to playing Words With Friends, maniacally at times, depending upon who had a free afternoon midweek. Matches often went on all afternoon. I liked to online chat as we played. He preferred to play then chat.

We lost touch late 2015 until late last year, it coincided with my getting off my walker and having correct diagnoses for several issues which had made me less mobile than I should be. I was full of joy at being in charge of my health again and looking forward to the possibilities life might have in store for me rather than a life limited by disability. It had made me rather reckless in my online communication with J and I felt quite overcome with embarrassment at some of the things I had got up to online.

I put my best Verger front on though and we had a lovely time, with me teasing him about his many accents. He speaks in many UK dialects! Chatting with G was wonderful, about fashion, her new job and her move down here recently to be near her family. I loved her freshness and innocence. We all three trooped out to see my infamous  buddlejas and the rest of the garden.

After a fun time involving me begging J not to make me laugh because of my extraction, accompanied by peels of laughter from G, it was sadly time for them to go. J hugged me goodbye, a protracted hug which I was mortified by as I did not have a bra on! G then answered a phone call and J came out of the car for more cuddles and said we would be talking online. To which I answered of course.

So I survived the first meeting, met my man of many voices, his gorgeous daughter, and survived my embarrassment. How good it is to be over 60. To have nothing to lose. To trust someone so deeply that anything is possible. Indeed to even meet someone where anything is possible is a rare thing. Over time since then we have committed ourselves to each other, in words and deeds. And to each other’s adult children and we love being involved in their lives.

 

 

A Good Death

I have just finished reading Kevin Toolis’ book “ My Father’s Wake.”  

His life as a child was not unlike mine, there was much to reflect on of my own childhood summer holidays in County Mayo, Eire in the late fifties, early sixties. We too were way out on The Wild Atlantic Way, on the blustery coast at Dooyork, Geesala. My grandparents raised four boys and five daughters. Out of them only one, uncle John, stayed behind to look after the farm.

Kevin’s book shows the emigration of so many from Eire. The villages left to literally fall down as a tribute to the people who once lived there. People migrated to America and England in his book, he did not talk about the ones who went to Canada or Australia, such as my uncle Michael and my parents.

His book resonated so strongly with me. The idea of a culture that welcomes death into their homes. Shows the young how not to be afraid of death and indeed, all ages. I had not had much to do with death until the last seven years when I lost my mother in law in 2012 and my own mother in 2014. Both were sudden deaths, with both living in Care Homes. Sue, my mother in law in the UK and my mum here in Newcastle, Australia.

On the morning of 29th July 2014 I was awoken by the Nurse Unit Manager with a request to call her ASAP. It was about 7am and I thought mum must have had a fall so was totally flabbergasted to be told bluntly that mum had gone that I even stupidly said “gone where?” M the NUM said she is dead Kate, and continued talking, I did not hear what she was saying as this awful sound came out of my mouth. I wailed. And wailed and wailed. I have never ever done it before or since. I realise now it was the shock, but it seemed to be something that just had  to come out. The NUM started crying quietly, she loved mum’s spunk, her defiance of anything not fun. In her last year living despite Alzheimer’s she had embraced life so much. I was so proud of her, so, delighted whenever I saw her achieve the near impossible.

Immediately I started to say that it was wonderful, that mum would not be a vegetable, trying to convince myself of that to sustain me through that awful day. My son came with me to the home to see my mum. She looked so tiny.  Her spirit was huge and obviously could not be contained within her body. I stroked her hand, sat with her and her first born grandson while so many of the staff who knew mum came to pay their respects. In its way it was a little like a wake, each person told us how sorry they were for our loss. Some cried and looked very distressed for us. They thought mum a lot of fun. Her death was totally unexpected. She could have had many happy years ahead of her, it was a shock for us all, or so a lot of us thought at the time. Now that the home has been sanctioned twice for not looking after their patients properly I am sure she should not have died like that. Alone. In her sleep. Flat on her back with one leg outstretched off the bed. The NUM had tucked it back in to make mum look presentable.

We were left alone for some time with mum to make our goodbyes, I gave her huge wet noisy kissses all over her face and told her she was the best mum in the whole world  and that I loved her. So much. I stroked her and wanted to get on the bed and cuddle her but I held myself together. How I wish I had done that but things needed to be done there and I had to inform family. Especially my elderly father. My son and I caught three buses to tell dad. I stayed with him for two weeks, neighbours came over and mum’s brothers. My brother came the next day and there was a mad rush for my aunt and uncle and my brother and dad to get to the funeral home to “view” mum before her cremation early the next day. There was to be no funeral and nobody to attend the cremation, all this I found out the day after mum died.

So unlike Sonny in the memoir, my mum passed quietly, with the people who were involved in her life in her last years around her. I was not able to bury her and felt a dreadful sense of bereavement, of lack of respect, lack of saying goodbye to my mum. Even after holding a small Service of Thanksgiving privately for her life I still woke from my sleep, crying, with her foremost in my thoughts.

Four years after she died my son and partner and I took her ashes and sprinkled them in Lake Macquarie. Or rather tossed them, it is very hard to get ashes out of the plastic containers. We watched as the lights reflected off the water at Croudace Bay, as her ashes streamed forth onto the lake. The lights caused her stream of ashes to sparkle. It was remarkable. My son who is a photographer took photos, as did my partner. I felt enormous grief but also relief, that her body was finally free, as her spirit had been when she was cremated. Mum had been in my food cupboard for four years, she had been a brilliant cook before she forgot how to do that so it was a good place for her to be. There she had been surrounded by my friends and dad visiting and lots of laughter. Perhaps she did have a Wake after all, after her ashes came home, to me.

 

 

 

 

Delightfully Relaxed and Friendly

A few months ago my partner J drove me to Newcastle Airport so that I could fly to Brisbane to visit my high school friend, It was my first holiday in many years having not flown since 1991. I also found the experience very different to my time as an Ansett hostess in 1975/1976.

The Virgin crew were very good on the ground at Newcastle Airport. They assisted me via hydraulic lift to enter the airplane and the same on debarkation. While waiting for the lift at Brisbane I disclosed I had not been back to Brisbane since I lived and worked out of there as an Air Hostess for Ansett in 1975. The team leader promptly told the Captain and they all escorted me off the plane, chatting about the changes as I was wheeled to where my friend was waiting. The team leader was keen to meet up sometime to talk but I did not have my wits about me. I need to get some cards printed up so that people can contact me as it will make it easier, especially when advocating for people.

My friend was waiting for me, it was so lovely to see her again. It was a lovely drive to her home and so precious to spend time with her. She was on half yearly break and also needing the holiday. I met her wonderful daughter and we three went to The Bee Gees Walk which was amazing. I felt terrible for them though as my legs are so weak now I could not walk very far and had to sit a lot. However in the car I was fine and it was a wonderful trip there. We passed Indooroopilly Shopping Centre, a huge complex which we also visited on my last full day there. We also passed Ikea. Now I know where my Brisbane based friends are when they say they are shopping at Ikea.

Another day we drove to Morton Bay Shire and I adored the country town about an hour inland where L took me which had fabulous antique shops and galleries etc. I bought fudge from an antiques shop, after a long lunch with her and her friend. L bought some charming Wedgewood dessert plates from there. We then went back to her friend’s rural property where I met her family. It was lovely to see the family’s alternate lifestyle and be with fellow upcyclers etc.

L has committed to buying nothing new for a year and in that vein we went to many many fabulous charity shops. Amazing clothing in all the top designers was found and I hoped I could manage to get everything into my suitcase when I left!

I had one disaster with my colostomy. I had shockingly rapid output one day and I just managed to get to the toilet in a small shopping centre. The disabled toilet was huge however it had no surfaces for me to lay out my supplies and wet wipes etc, so disaster struck. It took me ages to clean up the toilet and floor etc and my poor friend was patiently waiting outside for me. After checking my clothing I considered myself lucky it did not go on there and then we launched ourselves into food shopping upstairs in the centre. Me holding up a quite a queue of able bodied climbers! However I found everyone I met there delightfully relaxed and friendly.

Straight after we had an appointment for tea at a friend’s Persian restaurant. On the way in the car I kept smelling poo. I checked my hands. Peeked into my leggings. Nothing. I scrubbed my hands with sanitiser but it was still there. After saying that it must be all in my head my friend started to smell it too! We were at a loss. I sprayed lots of my Frangipani perfume to cover it up and we went into the restaurant.

L introduced me to her lovely friend and we tried to decide what to have to eat. Eventually we had coffee and tea and decided on taking food home for dinner. We grabbed our bags, car keys and sunglasses and made our way to the car. I clambered into her car and buckled my seatbelt and when I went to put on my sunglasses I smelled poo. Yes….there was a blob of poo on my blackish brownish sunglasses. After screeching with horror then laughter I attacked them with my disinfectant wipes and we tried not to think of the sunglasses on the restaurant table for all that time.

When we returned to L’s house I texted my son, asking him if he could guess what had happened. I texted in short sentences building the drama. Of course he upped the ante by answering in funny memes of horror! It was storytelling at its finest. I sent that all on to my partner, though he loves words he also loves the way C and I are so alike and so bonded, even in our humour.

We had many wonderful meals at L’s home. A fabulous curry courtesy of her fabulous daughter E one night and L’s homemade soup another. The mornings were a great time to relax and prepare for the day. During a couple of the days L had some alternative medicine treatments while I op shopped to my heart’s content. When I was finished I found two great coffee shops in the trendy part of town. One vegan type one was so popular that police teams came in for their lunch. The other was a Coffee Club which had a distinct Queenslander feel to it. It had a huge outdoor room on the pavement and I commended them on their Disabled Toilet being Ostomy friendly.

On the last day we popped over to Indooroopilly Shopping Centre for a bit of shopping and lunch in the food hall. While we were there I received an urgent voicemail from the manager of dad’s care home. She said that my estranged brother was saying that he was in charge of dad and he wanted all his ID and paperwork so that he could move him to near where he now lives. She had managed to stop him but was very concerned. I told her I would be back the next day and the rest of the afternoon, my last day with L was spent making phone calls to see what could be done to stop this happening.

The next morning L dropped me at the airport and I made my way home. Waiting at Newcastle Airport for me was my lover, my friend, my companion and my partner. All four rolled into one. We had a glorious drive back, after watching the Airforce aircraft taking off just over our heads at Williamstown.

I Cannot Let Myself Go Down That Path

Today my story is featured on ABC News Radio and News Online which both go national across Australia. This is my second time being interviewed by Giselle Watakama and she really makes it easy. She also has a magic way of pulling the secret stuff out of me. The stuff I try to cover up from the public, the people I know and often from my loved ones. She even manages to capture the quaver in my voice, because dammit I cannot hide that. Would if I could, truly.

I do not want my son or my lover to see me panting as my body tries to fill my ostomy bag. Panting as if I am birthing a hippopotamus. Because that is what it feels like. Pure agony for at least thirty minutes, often two hours  and exhaustion afterwards. And then there is the small matter of getting a bag to fit on my ostomy now. The mesh has sucked an area a bit like an inverted teacup beside my stoma. Right where the mesh is. And it is next to impossible to get a seal. So out of the myriad modern devices designed to make life easier for the modern ostomy I am left with an older version which does not seal and also the filter does not function well. Requiring me to ask friends if I stink. Because these days all I smell is poo.

Things are not all bad. As everyone knows I do not like to give in. And I am very stubborn and determined. And I like to advocate to help others who are injured and to try to stop others from becoming injured. While in hospital last week I met a really impressive Colo Rectal surgeon, Dr Peter Pockney who also teaches surgery at Newcastle University. And he is a member of my surgeon, Dr Brian Draganic’s team Newcastle Colorectal. I was impressed with his intelligent way of communicating. Dr Draganic also is very down to earth. I am hoping at some stage to talk to them about starting a mesh clinic up here at John Hunter Hospital. Or a Hernia Mesh Clinic as RPA has the Pelvic one. These two surgeons did not place my mesh. Presently I have started a support group on Facebook for Hernia Mesh injured. It is called Australian Hernia Mesh Support Group. We are gaining more members due to the radio interview on ABC today which is wonderful. People who do not usually use Facebook so I have given then my name and mailing address instead.

Some of the timeline of the article was a little bit out. So much for Giselle to sort through. Basically I had the mesh inserted in 2015, three years after my ostomy was formed. The photo above was taken after I got home from the mesh repair. Not knowing then I had a mesh infection, which is NOT considered to be a good thing in mesh circles.

So for most of early 2015 I was in and out of John Hunter with bowel obstructions. I was given emergency surgery in August 2015 for a Parastomal Hernia  and mesh was inserted. I have been much worse since, though not to the point of vomiting faeces but that is because I am so vigilant to not let the obstructions get to that point. But she is right. I do fear choking on faeces, because I did, for many many hours and even The NG  tube could not suck it all away. It was the only time in my life I wanted to run away and die somewhere where nobody could find me. Well I did once after I started looking after my demented parents in 2013 but I had just left my nasty husband and walked into the hell of Alzheimer’s. With a new stoma and a then undiagnosed Hernia.

So basically Giselle let me talk, and tried to make sense of what I said, with no medical training and my tendency to ramble she did a great job! What was even better for us Mesh campaigners and advocates was the info she came up with. We need these skills!  Basically the College of Surgeons are concerned about this Hernia mesh issue. It is so good to know that.

‘Anyway the article is here. I will leave you to read it, to absorb it, and to try to know that my life might sound awful but I do see the bigger picture. In my case I do not have Alzheimer’s. Whew. And I can still laugh at myself. My son is wonderful,  as are my friends. And I have a magical lover/partner who does not notice my bag, thinks I am brave and encourages me to not see myself as disabled. It is only when I try to walk that I feel disabled, and it is only brief. Cause I cannot let myself go down that path.

Finally I would like to thank the lovely Rosie and Marion of John Hunter’s new Acute Surgical Ward. Talk about wonderful nurses. Beyond wonderful. And then there was the delightful Rory, the resident from Belfast. And the canular technician called in who finally got a vein. Am covered in bruises. Little love bites to remind me of my stay.

I Never Want To Feel Like This Again

Today was the fourth anniversary of my mum’s death. It is always a very hard day for me. I was so unprepared for her death. So unprepared for her new life. I needed more time. And today time is all I had. And memories. And photos. And more time. Sharing photos and those memories to Facebook. My friends doing their best from a distance to make me feel better. I have the best friends. The best network. The absolute best son in the world. And a wonderful partner.

However my partner was unable to be with me today, even for a short time, as he had a previous commitment to a weekend birthday bash. A sleepover one filled with all sorts of people, interesting and average and quite a mix of ages. And some of his family.

Usually we communicate throughout the day fairly regularly. And we say good morning and goodnight by telephone, a prolonged goodnight, over three hours last Friday night. Perhaps I should be happy with the time we do have together, such as last weekend where we had a fabulous, romantic weekend away together.

But I am cursed with wanting more. I did not have enough time with my mum, I am conscious of time and how things can change in an instant. I want more. I want to meet all his kids, his grandkids, his friends. Have heard so much of them but they seem to be denied to me, for now anyway.

Earlier today I was interviewed by ABC Newcastle about my Hernia Mesh. I have been in hospital again this week and it was stressed to me that I should really come in with all my bowel obstructions. I hate it though as they seriously cannot get my veins and then there is the dreaded NG tube. So I treat myself at home, always ready to go to hospital quickly if the pain worsens or if I start vomiting. As it did in 2015. It is serious and not to be messed with.

The reporter was fantastic. I have met her before. We did this over the phone as she wants to get this report to go National ASAP. We had a good talk then she did the thing where she said she wanted to know how it really affected my life. So I told her. She is excellent in getting to the absolute heart of the subject.

And it is one of the reasons why this thing about time is so important to me. To grab life now, because I do not know if this will kill me one day. I really don’t. And before then I want to see all my friends and meet my lover’s family. And not feel like the other woman. Because that is how I have felt all weekend. As if I am someone who cannot meet most of  his family. Must not let his family know we are together. That his obligation to this female friend exceeds his obligation to me.

It might seem stupid to him but it is how I feel, and how most women in my position would feel I believe. I have given myself heart and soul to this man, and maybe that was wrong. Anyone who cannot be there or even find the time on such a day as this to let me know he is thinking of me, of my son, may not be worth my love. I have a lot of thinking to do and we need to talk. I never want to feel like this again. I need that to be very clear.

Common Circus Belmont

Yesterday I had a flu shot administered by a medical student under the expert instructions of my GP. We all survived, I still have my arm, though it is a tad sore at the site which is usual.

The student was male which was unusual as we get a lot of female med students and he did an excellent job for a first injection!

I felt in need of a coffee as I always do if I am in the vicinity of Common Circus, the wonderful homewares and coffee shop opposite Belmont Lake.

I have been coming here since I moved into my home in 2015 and really love sitting at the large communal monk’s style table. I blog my memoirs, surreptitiously people and baby watch and chat to people from all walks of life as well as these days assess who is a tourist.

I remember the first time in 2016 when I was asked if I was a local! By a tourist. It was incredible and I felt really proud of my beautiful region. Then I chatted about Words With Friends and other things and yesterday I observed a lovely interaction with some young mums at the table.

One mum had a newborn in a sling which the other mum nursed for her. Her little toddler was hidden by the plants in the middle of the table so I could not see what he was doing. He was very quiet.

I asked if it was okay to take photos for my blog. Assured them it was anonymous and covered women’s health etc and coffee shop reviews! They liked that I think though the gorgeous young mum was concerned she looked awful as was sleep deprived and had no make up on.

You can judge for yourself from the photos below. There were lots of people coming and going. Business types in suits getting their take away coffees. Older people reading newspapers while they savoured theirs. And then the younger ones perched on the stools looking towards the lake.

There is a lovely outdoor area with a communal table and the staff is always perky. And not as a result of the coffee. They are naturally inclined that way! And. They know the names of most of their regulars!

I highly recommend this place, not least for the service they provide but for the way they make use of recycled paper boxes and napkins and cups instead of plates and cups and saucers. Their coffee and food is unparalleled too.

The decor is gorgeous with patchwork panelling and colourful coffee machines. Currently pink. Used to be aqua. I prefer the aqua but that is just my taste and the pink does not nauseate me as it may some people I know. Think fifties kitchens. Pretty.

Five star review. Excellent and has remained so, even improved if that is possible.