Sunday, August 22, 2010


Whatever else, they can't take it away. The day, the sky, bluer than ever, the radiant warmth of sun on a cold morning, the stillness, the first call of the kookaburras, the thrown open doors onto the verandahs, the sound of the kettle boiling.

We finished the night soon after midnight, playing some Chopin Nocturnes after C and G had left, the (election night) despondency fading with light-hearted banter about where we would move - Canada, France, Portugal, with Tasmania a late pragmatic finalist. K was still fiddling with the loudspeaker crossovers, and I was eating more spicy apricot chocolate cake which I'd overcooked. Millie was in the scrub just off the bedroom transfixed staring down the wombat hole and the old dog was asleep under the table. On the couch was a newcomer, a silky terrier. We're minding him. His mummy, as she calls herself, is in the final stages of disseminated cancer and no longer able to care for her little dog, or herself. Nor does she care what happened last night.

We've tried to position our lives beyond the reach of politics and its players. There's something about country though, something about what you want to be and be seen to be ...

All that was yesterday, Sunday, and now it's 24 hours later. I stopped writing to answer the phone. It was T, to whom I'd been talking more and more in the last few days. On Wednesday last she had taken S (the terrier's mummy) home to care for her when she refused the hospital admission her oncologist recommended. Now an ambulance had just been called and S was on her way to hospital. "It's scary" T managed to confide through tears, after describing the bubbling gasping breath.

Two hours later we were together and variously gathered around her bed in Emergency. What I had expected to be an irreversible decline had in fact been a cardiac arrhythmia which had now reverted with minimal therapeutic intervention. She looked wasted, small frail and balding behind the high delivery oxygen mask and was unable to speak because of painful mouth ulcers. Her chest rattled. We had some time alone, and among the things she wrote (and I am looking at the piece of paper now) was 'I have no intention of dying'. The question of course was just how far this treatment was to be pursued, the profession on the one hand seeing a respiratory decline as a reversible infective side effect of chemotherapy, against the necessary question of when to say enough is enough. She had now accepted hospitalisation as not only necessary but desirable, and moreover had made it quite clear, the fight was far from over.

So driving back to the country last night was a time for rebalancing. It is a remarkable country, where I want to be if I end up like my dear friend, in a wonderful city, in a wonderful hospital, surrounded by wonderful staff, on every level, and, hopefully, some friends to whom I can write final messages.

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