At some point in the last few days, summer quietly left us. No storms, but the ongoing grey continued, and that chilliness that meets the back of your neck when you step out of the front doorway.
I came back, threw my things onto my bed and went straight into the shower. If only could could sleep standing up, and if only there was no water restriction. I closed my eyes and let the water wash over me. I pushed my things off my bed and crawled beneath the blanket completely like a child back in my room, nice and tired and relieved.
Mmmm warm! :)
I don’t remember much of today. I was so tired, I started hallucinating red flashes in the corners of the pages of the book I was reading on the train home. Norwegian Wood - a Murakami. I’d bought it on a whim in the evening, and to give me something to do. I’d read it before, in Auckland, on rainy days when I had been left alone (I would bus into the city and read at Borders).
It didn’t rain this afternoon, but the sky looked like it really wanted to.
The weekend storms hung over the city: Nurses in Medical Therapy were talking about the holes in patio rooves from hail and recalling how years ago MMC flooded and water drowned the cars in the basement carpark. I knew I would be in for a long wait (I’m so used to patients being late now) so I’d brought food and some work to kill time.
I was meant to present a paper in the afternoon, so I headed to the Alfred. I’d written the entire thing last night/this morning on a niggling feeling at 10pm yesterday that when Professor R. said “why don’t you present this,” he meant the next time we saw each other, as opposed to an unspecified time in the future. Even at 10 minutes before the start of the meeting, I was trying to scope out its flaws. (It went well, amazingly).
I’d been more nervous because I had a meeting with Prof R after the lab meeting to discuss a further section on the review I was writing up. I hadn’t actually done any work on since the last time we met, which meant I was in a fair bit of trouble if he found out. I’d gone to the Alfred this afternoon with the knowledge that there’d be a 50-50 that he’d cancel the meeting due to something coming up unexpectedly (his schedule is insane). If we met, I’d come clean. Still, I was banking on some important interruption.
Three minutes before the end of lab meeting, a phone call happens. A perfusate stockist, or the customs guy (I can’t remember which) wants to see him later in the afternoon. We rescheduled for Thursday morning.
Feeling incredibly lucky, I took the tram to the city tried to train home with the rush hour throng. Our train was packed with passengers from another line whose service was cancelled due to faulty machinery and we were packed like cattle. Even more amusing was that they’d used a recycled train. You know, the kind that you know you’ve seen at train yards when you pass desolate places that engines and carriages go to waste away and die.
The design of those old carriages is purely in box-form, just like cattle cars. The joins of the box are clearly demarcated by metal reinforcers. I used to think that the curved edges of modern train carriages were purely for decorative/superfluous reasons but it turns out without them, you feel a little like you’re being carried to somewhere frightening. The walls in our carriage were a textured white, one that they favoured at least two decades ago. It made everything seem like recycled paper - unclean, old. The dangled leather strap above my head had rusted off the metal rail, and I had to share the one next to it with another person. Awkward, the touching of hands with someone you don’t know.
Even worse, evidence of graffiti everywhere. They hadn’t painted over it, just scrubbed it out. You could still see the outline of all the words on the ceilings, rooves, in between windows, on the windows. The smell of mould killer lingered in the air.
I wonder why they’ve started using old carriages. The squeaking joins between carriages painted a picture of old and run down instead of quaint, and New York underground.
All in all, rather depressing.
Slouching in bed, reading instead of working, I’m beginning to all asleep..
Do you ever wonder what life would be like if you could somehow separate the part of yourself that had to work and do boring stuff off from your conscious state? Just blank out for a few moments and have your work all done in front of you. Wouldn’t that be an awesome dissociative identity to have..?
“When I say, “I love you,” it’s not because I want you or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are.”—Joss Whedon (via kari-shma)
It’s Sunday - rain, rain and more rain but at least no flash storms. Jocelyn listens to the radio, calls me to ask if we want to wait things out - rain has reached Healsville, should we still attempt dinner?
"I don’t think there’ll be another hail storm," I say. "Maybe just more torrential rain."
We’re in Glen Waverly when lightning strikes, and out of habit count the seconds out before thunder in my head. I’d worn shorts, anticipating wetness. Water slips past the tips of my umbrella and down my legs. All the restaurants are full up, and it’s an exercise in finding somewhere warm to be.
When I get back there are several cars parked in our driveway. It’s 11pm, the lights are all on, and when I walk in the smell of marinated lamb greets me. The alcoholic is holding a dinner party.
The alcoholic’s friends are a strange lot. I’ve been shuffled into an awkward position, going down stairs to get water and somehow ushered into a chair at the table with a glass filled with wine. I’d rehearsed an excuse many times in my head and somehow still managed to get reeled into this thing.
I actually don’t mind his friends. I’ve met them before (last year) and they were filled with sympathy at my plight. They’ve drunk with him before, in days gone by…but they’ve all moved on with their lives, made homes for themselves. Apparently these gatherings are few and far in between. They look at him with pity while he tries to relive his youth by downing bottles and bottles of Chinese liquor (very strong -60% or so).
A man who is only known as ‘The Bear’ is at the table with his girlfriend. He keloids - I can tell, because there is an arched scar in his left pre-auricular region the shape of a knife mark that one would execute if one might have tried to remove the left ear; or it could be the subtle whelt of teeth marks — I can’t really say. He runs a restaurant in Richmond, one of many in a chain apparently. They’re supposed to be well known, but he refuses to reveal exactly which ones. He remembers me from the same time last year when we met in a similar circumstance (another dinner just like this, when I had walked into the house and been sat at a table before I knew what was happening). He asks me about medical school, and we talk about the economy and global politics. He’s really up to date on immigration law, and has a surprisingly balanced view about the world.
The Bear’s girlfriend is easily my favourite person in the room. She’s one of those modern young women in China - a liberal. She drinks, is social, and completely confident. Also, she’s a lot older than me - late 20s, maybe. We also met last year, and she asks me if I’ve graduated, what I’m planning to do with my life.
Billy passes a lit cigarette into my hands drunkenly. I’m not sure if he means that I should smoke it (he knows I don’t smoke), or that I should hold it for him. He’s so intoxicated he can’t lift his head up. it’s soon apparent that his friends are equally as uncomfortable as I am, just a little more used to it. He starts to cry, alternating between bursts of rage, violence (terrifying to all of us) and weeping.
I go upstairs early, but his friends are all too terrified to wake him when he passes out so they leave him on the hardwood floor near the front door, sleeping. I happen to be closing the lights in the upstairs landing when I see him there.
Bemused, I sit on the stairwell and look down at him from the narrow angle view that the top stair affords. I’ve moved around a lot since I came to Australia. Nine times in four years, actually. In that time I’ve met a lot of strange people. TJ, who somehow new all these organisers at clubs and got us in for free (I’ve also never had to line up to go anywhere) and was somehow connected with the triads in Box Hill; D was the son of a mayor in a major Chinese province and too rich for his own good; Alex who, obsesed with flying, used to play on a flight simulator in his room while I read novels on his bed now works as a commercial pilot for Spring Airlines and has a son called Frank; Daria is doing her ph.D in Sociology and who did musical theatre with Maurice, now her boyfriend; Nu has this year moved back from Berlin with Michael; Ying, who supplied me with free merchandise and alcohol and had a thing for buying Witchery and Country Road clothes (thousands of dollars in one go), working as a bar manager at Golden Monkey and studying Accounting while dreaming about becoming a Librarian in the US; Alisha, who is still with that person she met on the train, and who briefly had a drinking problem; Cao, and his little daughter who lived in the shabbiest room of the shabbiest house who probably figured out by December that I had been slipping her chocolate when he wasn’t looking..
I can’t put my finger on why I dislike Billy. Sure, there are the clear reasons why a reasonable person with reasonable morals would probably dislike him…but it takes a fair bit for me to dislike anyone. We get along well at a surface level - hell, I get along with most people. He even told everyone today what an outstanding person I was, and how easy I was to live with while tugging on my shirt drunkenly.
Perhaps it was when he was telling me about his girlfriend’s abortion (I had never met her then), or when he shoved her into the concrete while drunk. Or perhaps his incessant drinking, the evidence of which I find the next morning if I haven’t been woken up in the middle of the night with him crashing into a wall on his way to his room.
Or maybe it’s me — I’m getting older. I’ve become more certain about things I stand for, the battles I might pick to fight. I hate people who mistreat women, form uneducated convictions, and I hate people who never take responsibility for their own actions. It’s nothing he has done to me personally, but more who he is — the annoying things he does as a flatmate are almost neglible in the scope of things.
What makes someone a jerk? What makes someone a good person, even though they do jerkish things? I’ve learnt that it’s not always black and white in the last 12 months (not just from Billy, but with other people in general).
For the first time, I’m just tired. Tired of moving around. Looking at him lying on the floor, I tell myself for the first time that it’ll only be two more years before I can have a home. A few more years after that before I can build a life, a family, have all the things I’ve wanted for myself. These times adrift are times that everyone has to go through at some stage - everyone who has ever had to leave their families and make a life for themselves elsewhere, at least.
Time to go back to bed.
I quietly slip downstairs, pick up the duvet that his friends have left on the couch and put it next to him.
(UGH. As much as I would like to, I can’t just leave him like that once I’ve seen him).
Hail rocked the house . I was two steps from my front door, and the sky turned black. Not that I was going anywhere, just coming back from a small errand. I thought about some friends who’d gone to the boathouse in Kew, and how glad I was that I’d overslept and missed it.
This weather makes me listless. Since when have small decisions become life decisions? Like [potential] dinner dates with strangers, and a choice between one future and another.
Why am I so…stubborn?
The rain just kept on going and going. I thought about the people I knew who worked on Saturdays —
It’s so stuffy today - the perfect day for time for rain. I stopped by the hospital on the way home to pick up a folder and check some emails and there was the sound of a trolley that sounded like it would be thunder. It wasn’t, however. Just wishful thinking.
I love it when it rains after a long musty period.
The first week of autumn has gone so quickly. It’s been interesting - I randomly met a girl I did Paeds’ with’s boyfriend on campus — it turned out that he was a friend of Josh’s girlfriend Jess, who I had bumped into at the bank and was getting coffee with.
On Wednesday, an intensivist had lectured us on circulation and cardiac power and I couldn’t get the image of greyhound hearts out of my head. In a lab down the hall from our meeting room, greyhounds periodically had theirs cut out of them, preserved, then put back in by my supervisor and another student. They were testing out a new solution for possible use on donour hearts after cardiac death - we’d gone through the cardiac power equation one meeting when Yi-Wee was explaining his latest fuction curves.
The image of dead dogs stayed with me all afternoon. Bodies lying on the table, heartless. Did they know, entering the building? Could they smell blood upstairs, on the third level all the way from the front door? At least they lived afterwards, their hearts were put back (although slightly anaemic due to haemodilution). Even Kent’s project working with mice — I think about them, dull eyed and dead, their vagus cut out and examined and shiver. (Meng doesn’t like to detail what she does with her mice, but I imagine they have to be dead to have their brains sliced and put on slides).
There’s a ruthless element to science. Everything is passive. Someone told us once, “Research is about a series of observations” and it’s true: one observes things at a distance, in a very calculating and methodological way. From colour change to cell counts, to how many people die… you record the end result and you move on.
This year has been strange. I think about the impact of disease on people’s lives a lot more. The little girl with that crown of curls, or the 30-something reading with one hand because the other is hooked to a bag of O-ve. I look at Catrina, and how she’s changed since she started her internship. It’s like House Of God. One night at Sahara, she looked out the window and said, “I just don’t think I care anymore.”
There was a patient at MMC in this morning to get samples from, then a tutorial with third years at the Alfred in the afternoon.
Heading home, the train was peculliarly crowded. Perhaps it was the humidity that made things seem more compressing. Tracy hadn’t left her office, located on the road next to mine, so we went and got dinner together.
I picked up a bottle of Chateau Paul Mas “Clos des Mûres” on the way back. Several glasses later, I’m sprawled on my tummy across the bed, eating strawberries.
It’s good to be home. I was meant to be somewhere, but it was cancelled. I can’t say I’m upset. Simple room, quietness - I brush my hair out slowly in front of the mirror, contemplating the emails I’ve yet to write.
On the train this afternoon there had been an old man and woman who didn’t have a seat, and nobody would stand up for them (they were clearly struggling). Where was chivalry in our generation these days? I could spot at least 4 bored school children who were just watching them struggle.
“In the realm of psychology you also need details. God preserve you from commonplaces. Best of all, shun all descriptions of the characters’ spiritual state. You must try to have that state emerge clearly from their actions. Don’t try for too many characters. The centre of gravity should reside in two: he and she.”—from ”Letter to A.P. Chekov, May 10, 1886” - Anton Chekov (on writing)
I’ve been reading my blog from high school (letters, really, to someone) out of boredom. I used to write better then, probably because I wasn’t half asleep when I wrote everything.
On this day 5 years ago, at 10:56pm (it’s around 10:30pm now!)…I wrote:
There are some nutcases out there. They might be nice nutcases, but they’re plain batty all the same. They’re geniuses, actually. I might say that of my lecturer today, who was superbly sweet in all ways possible except I wished that I could cotton on to at least something she was dramatically pushing onto us, onto me, sitting in the last row of the lecture theatre. I felt like I am back in 2004, sitting in on my first Level 3 class, wanting to die. Well, it’s actually quite interesting, the course, and everything. Except I feel way out of my depths. Even though everybody there had done Level 3, just like I had done. I swear they must have gotten straight As to pick English as a paper. I certainly know that Natasha, the genius sitting next to me, did.
Uni life seems incredibly…horrible…if you have no friends to meet up with. This I thought as I had arrived an hour early for my lecture, and couldn’t find anything to do. Everybody was pairing off on campus. I felt so self conscious because I was the odd person out. In the end I ditched the plan to go midtown because I was sick of waiting, walked to Student Commons, bought some water, checked out the uni book shop for texts that we would be studying, and then walked back and pretended I was going somewhere objective for the other twenty minutes that I was there waiting around.
Walking around pretending to have a purpose affords you to certain things. I discovered, for example the guy smoking on the stairwell was in my class. Except he’d been there for about the same amount of time I had been, just sitting and smoking. It kinda makes me wish I smoked too, in a way that might mean that I had something to do with my hands, to make me look occupied. Except that would mean that I would have to smoke. Which I hate, and would never do. The smell of cigarette smoke (and smokers) alone would kill me before any of it got down my throat. Ironically, I do, however like the smell of unlit cigarettes.
I can’t help imagine - what would next year be like? Will it be like this, except only would it seem more natural? Would I walk around the buildings no longer feeling like a stranger? Or will all the buildings forever seem strange to me? I wonder if I will carve a path, invisibly of course because it’s not possible this will really occur, along the same paths I lead from arts 209 to 416 to 516? And for how long will I do this? Will I drop out? (Ginsberg thought of himself as a messiah to save the american episteme from materialism/capitalism. This I wrote down on refill today. Who is Ginsberg? What did he write, apart from Witchita Vortex Sutra, which we skimmed over on Monday? Those things I chase around in my head, much like I chase my eraser shavings with the tip of my pencil in Statistics).
Speaking of Stats, I’m growing desperate. We had a reliever today, who was HOD Statistics, so to speak, and she covered everything our teacher covered in two weeks and more in the fifty minutes of class time we had today. It was beautiful. But it was bittersweet because of course, our teacher will be back soon and this will all be over. (I am talking about school again. I very frequently talk about school, abruptly, with great energy).
I am doing Front Of House for the production - I got in the crew through the backdoor way. No applications. Just good old fibbing from people high up to one another (I never really realized that teachers lied to one another in the same way we lie to teachers if we haven’t done our homework), until I got stuck on the list. I can handle this. This is minimal amount of effort on my part.
Life continues to roll on like those big bundles of dried hay in the farm fields around the place. I am a dry sponge, absorbing everything in, carrying them with me, moving on, leaving them to dry in me into hard crusty cake, the weight of which I can never get rid of.
(I was so cute back then! I’d been doing a literature paper outside of school that year [because I’d skipped a year in English] and tertiary life was still really strange to me.
5 years on, I’m still at uni…sort of. The me writing on that day in March would never have imagined herself living in Melbourne the following year. (I thought I’d do med school in Auckland).
It’s the first of autumn, all cold and windy. I spent the morning in bed, drinking tea and brooding about a niggling hiccup in our study (the MDA assays - please can we make an executive decision to scrap it as a marker? I’d brought it up with my supervisor last week but he’d been resistant) before realising that I needed to retrieve laundry from the yard in order to get dressed.
Under the morning sun, everything seemed so much less colourful than just two days before. Paler sunlight, barer trees. A dead leaf stuck to a woolen shirt which I shook out. Where had it come from? The ones in our yard looks like it’s part of an evergreen family.
Last night a really strange air siren had sounded. I’d slipped outside to a sinister looking stillness and the scream of three different emergency service sirens in the distance. Billy had come out of his room, on the balcony of his bedroom, and yelled directions at me — “Go check to the left! To the right!” (Wow, really, you’d let a girl run around in the middle of the night while you hide in your room)?
"Is Australia under attack?" he’d asked anxiously when he’d heard me heading down the stairs to go see what’s going up, hovering around the banister, scratching at the single earring in his left ear.
I guess even jerks get scared sometimes.
I’ve been at the Alfred quite a bit lately, between meetings and tutorials and coffee with a few people I haven’t seen in a while. It’s becoming routine, the getting off of the train at South Yarra, the smell of cafes and the brisk walk past a primary school and through the park opposite the hospital (where the sprinkler system seems to make everyday a muddy day).
Last Friday I took some third years to see a man with Marfans Syndrome. Not my first choice - I didn’t think taking them to see a rare disease was that useful in the long run, although it certainly would have made me fairly popular.
I’m not sure what it is about Marfan’s Syndrome that makes everyone think it’s so awesome. It would be more educational to see someone with a boring but common condition, surely. Still. I’d figured that he’d have a good cardiovascular examination and signs on general inspection. Some bright person always says Marfans when they see a tall person.
I have to say, Alfred hospital sees a lot more Marfans than I thought. I was telling Tim and Jonathan about going to see a patient with it, and they both thought I was talking about a different person. Apparently they’d both had a different Marfans patients on their units in the last few days.
When I got to the ward I discovered that the poor bloke was a New Zealander. Happy to see someone from my home, I asked him what he was doing here. It turned out that he’d come on holiday for a music festival (which, sadly, was happening as I was speaking to him) but halfway through he’d run into strife.
Whoa, sucked to be him. We didn’t get to examine him because he’d had so many people come and see him that he was exhausted but I would not want to see anyone either. Especially as I was aware that New Zealanders weren’t eligible for Medicare. Ouch.
(We ended up seeing a lady with massive splenomegaly instead).
That night I wandered around the city because I had this sudden craving for udon (I get so many random food cravings that a friend teased me about being chronically pregnant). I watched a small girl throw a coin into a fountain and make a wish; an old man on the train told me about the footy, meeting his wife, his daughter’s new house. Catrina messaged to say that we should do something the next morning.
Sometimes I just wanna be away from things. I envy people with cars, who can just drive somewhere - or people with bikes, who can hop on and just be themselves, riding, period.
What is it about the act of travelling that distills people somehow?
My alarm went off at 8, but I woke to what looked like 7. Autumn must have be coming. Mornings arive later, are less inviting. I was still pulling clothes on when I left the house, bobby pin in my mouth and a shoe in my hand, late for the medical therapy unit.
It turned out that the patient arrived over 2 hours later than me. We tried to kill time the best we could, moving old samples from the Pathology department to the Rheumatology labs in East block. We had coffee. We tried to read in the couches along the corridor.
An adorable little boy and his mother came and sat next to us. I fell in love with the way she offered him a choice between two bananas, ruffled his hair and peeled it for him. I’ve never seen two people more happier to do nothing but eat bananas together.
Sigh. I wanna be that kind of mum one day. The kind who asks a child to picking a banana out of two exact looking ones to let them know that they have autonomy in their lives, that they matter and are important. Everyday.
I was just thinking - there are so many expressions of love missed in the world. Everyone has their own things. Making sandwiches for another person, for example, to me, is so much an expression of a lifetime together. Or cutting apples for someone I love. Reading out loud. Making my father coffee or tea before I sleep when he’s pulling a late nighter. Listening to his philosophical ramblings and life stories like I’ve never heard them before, and knowing that he knew that I was doing that.
Or even a parent going to thalassemia clinic with his little girl. Contrary to popular belief, the med therapy unit is usually filled with patients in their 20s-40s. I’d stopped in the middle of my tracks in the hallway, balancing a file. A gorgeous 6-7 year old girl, blonde hair, olive skin, had trotted past, waving goodbye at the resident in the unit. A bandage was around her arm, and a line came through and wound up an IV pole she tugged at her side. Packed red cells. A bag of it.
Did she know what it was like to have a normal life? I doubted it. A bag of blood and a child didn’t seem to go together in any way.
Padma told me that once she saw a baby - a 6 month old, perhaps - sitting on a woman’s lap in clinic, hooked up to a bag. Not old enough to walk, but old enough for a stranger’s blood to be running through your veins — I suddenly understood why people couldn’t do Paediatric Haem/Onc (I was/am still considering. Adult haematology still appeals more - they get a more vast array of diseases).
With the deadline over (what an anticlimax that was), I took the afternoon off.
Sobering, really. I ate a lot of cantaloupe, slept a little. I was so inconsiderate and horrible last week — not that I did anything, but I wasn’t very thoughtful towards others…in my head. I’m still cringing at how mean I was about the cleaner thing…