I’ve been trying to work out why getting around to the writing of this post has been so difficult. It’s not that there hasn’t been anything to post about since I arrived in Sydney a few weeks ago, (I’ll elaborate on that soon), nor the time to do it; there’s just a feeling of ‘do people really want to know what I’ve been up to’?
When I wrote my fortnightly columns for The Border Mail I covered a myriad of topics – disappearing chooks, marking the anniversaries of the deaths of my parents, celebrating the arrival of my first grandson, neuroplasticity, the pervasiveness of gambling and equality for gay parents among other topics: I had a hook for the 600 words that I wrote. After the column appeared, I would post it on my blog. It meant fresh copy every fortnight.
But now, without that deadline there doesn’t seem such a rush to post, and even a slight nervousness about adding this to the blog. Is anyone really interested in what it feels like to leave the place you’ve called home for 24 years for love and your other passion – writing?
The build up to the move was protracted. I knew from mid September that I needed to make the move and study the Master of Arts in Cultural and Creative Practice offered through the Sydney Consortium. One of the authors whose work I admire immensely, Gail Jones, would be teaching in the program. After attending the information session I knew that even though I have written professionally and had fiction published, this was the right course to flourish not only as a writer but also as a critical thinker about writing. I applied and was accepted, but had to be patient because classes didn’t start until late February.
Then there was the end of year teaching and lecturing paperwork to attend to, Christmas with family and during January a number of farewell lunches, dinners and coffees. I’m sure some who continued to see me in Albury thought I had changed my mind. (Them: Are you back for a visit? Me: No, haven’t gone yet.) There was a short visit to Sydney and a job interview and then back to Albury to make sure all was in order for the lovely tenant who was to move into our home. Finally, on February 11, the green Lancer was loaded up and I was on the much travelled Hume Highway to Sydney. (I later remembered I didn’t ring to pay the toll for the M7 and M4. I’m still waiting for the notice to come.)
I woke on the Tuesday morning and started the unpacking and getting to know my new environment. Over the next few days there were emails and letters to be written to advise change of address etc. etc. etc. and then in the early hours of the Friday morning incredible pain that worsened and resulted in me being taken by ambulance to Westmead Hospital where I remained for four days. It was my first experience of being a patient since the birth of my second son who is 25. The care was very good, the only glitch being a long wait for the porter to take me for a CT scan on the Friday night. I kept telling myself there was probably someone who needed to have a scan before me. As it turned out the poor porter was trying to be in five places at one time and got to me about four hours after I had drunk the last of the concoction that would help them to see what was ailing me. (The scan was inconclusive.)
By Saturday morning the pain had subsided, but I knew that I would be in hospital for at least two days. I switched on my writerly instincts and I found myself eavesdropping on conversations and tweeting to a) keep myself occupied and b) keep myself occupied. I was comfortable, relatively pain free and being well looked after.
However, I wasn’t going anywhere and had a lot of time to think. I wanted to be home and unpacking; getting everything organised including my study area, for uni. I read ‘Such is Life’ (oh fate how you can mock!) I contemplated writing this piece from hospital, but that seemed indulgent – which it still does a little – but what struck me most was how, even though I wasn’t all that ill, I had handed over control. I was injected with Heparin morning and night to stop blood clots. I was up and around on the Sunday, so on the Sunday night asked did I have to have the injection and was told that I could refuse it and did. Blood was taken each morning, and again on the Sunday I also asked why this was being taken. (You can tell I was feeling better). I was informed that I could get a printout of the results to take home with me. (I did get these, but also the distinct impression that I was asking more questions than people normally did.)
On the morning of the day I was to be discharged, a Resident, trying to be helpful I’m sure, made an appointment for me for a follow up MRI. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness and trouble, but explained that perhaps he should have checked with me first because the time of the appointment clashed with a long-standing commitment I had and there was also a matter of cost. (This particular MRI doesn’t attract a Medicare rebate.) He disappeared, then returned to say he’d spoken to the specialist and there was an alternative procedure that I knew would not as effectively show up the problem if indeed there was one. (There was a diagnosis that perhaps I had experienced a bout of severe food poisoning.) “You’re not listening to me,” he said. “No, you’re not listening to me,” I replied assertively, but why oh why did I feel like I was being aggressive? In the end, I asked him for the referral and told him I’d make the appointment myself. “That’s what you want?” “Yes that’s what I want.” (A friend of mine who works in the health area says my experience is all too common.)
After he left, I thought more and more about the conversation and the whole experience. I was lucky, that even though I was alone in the apartment as whatever I had worsened, I knew about the Nurse on Call service and was able to google the service on my iPhone and dial through, and I had health insurance including ambulance cover. I thought about the increasing number of people who live alone and may not have the resources I have. I am well educated and well informed when it comes to what is happening to my body, and my first language is English, but I felt quite helpless, and that I was being a bit of a pest if I asked too many questions. Perhaps if I hadn’t gone into the hospital through Emergency I would have been given some information about being in hospital and the routine and procedures. For the first few hours I was there, I was just happy to be cared for and for the pain to be relieved.
But the longer I stayed there, and particularly after the discussion with the doctor, I thought about what it would be like if you arrived alone at the hospital and didn’t speak English. Alternatively, how frightening it would be if you were in so much pain that you could not communicate your name, date of birth, phone number, whether you were allergic to anything, your private health membership number or the name of your next of kin is. (I was asked these questions at least five times.)
I am happy to report that my health has returned to its ‘excellent’ status, and with two weeks of the MA done, (including being introduced to a couple of new Australian poets, and reading the Australian classics, Such is Life and Voss), I feel I am settling into life here. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity through my membership of the Australian Society of Authors to hear Tom Keneally speak, and tomorrow night look forward to meeting other members at a new members’ night. Last night I went to an event examining the future of the printed book, and next week will pop along to the launch of the NSW Writers’ Centre ‘Talking Writing’ e book. As the MA workload increases my social outings may decrease, but I am a social creature.
So, am I there yet? Yes. I’m here. Sydney’s my home for at least the next 12 months and I know absolutely that for this time in my life, it’s where I should be. (Now to find a job …)
My ‘settling in’ has been enhanced by Director of Booranga Writers’ Centre, Claire Baker’s thoughtful review of my anthology, The Only Constant, in the March-April edition of Booranga News. http://robynewithane.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/claire-baker-review-of-the-only-constant1.pdf