Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dennis' daughter

Eighty years ago today my father was born in a little place called Wylkatchem, Western Australia.

From what I know of it he had a tough early life.

He was a young boy in the Depression. The second of three children, much later there was a fourth. Life was hard. I don't know when it was that Grandma became a single parent after the breakdown of the marriage, but I know times were tough.

Dad talked of living (as a child) on the banks of the river in a tent. This was in Perth. He talked of being in a reform school in his teens in Sydney.

He was a man's man. Largely self-taught. He valued education but was wary of the arrogance of class privilege that often came with an educated person's lifestyle.

He was very intelligent, with an easy grasp of most subjects - especially in the science engineering and physics field. He could do fantastic technical drawings. He could make anything structural of steel to any specifications. He could weld.

He drove taxis. He rode motorbikes with sidecars at the Speedway. He drove trucks, including big prime movers. He could repair any engine, on any machine.

He was a Mason. He valued service and integrity. He valued family. He could hold a grudge.

He preferred plain cooking, but appreciated good slow Italian cooking, a bit of Chinese and a good Singaporean chilli crab.

In his later years he worked as a mechanic, an engineering estimator, and a security guard.

He respected guns, and taught me to shoot. He took me out driving in every vehicle my license would allow me to drive, so I could be confident to drive anything I got behind, except somehow he never taught me to back a trailer. Oops. Still, I've driven tractors, trucks, stick shifts, column shifts, automatics, vintages and you-name-its.

He loved lollies, and had quite a sweet tooth. He was fiercely independent and very private. We didn't have a lot, but we had enough and I felt rich, and secure. He played Lotto. He had his chair, a recliner rocker that was hotly contested as long as he was not in it. This is how I remember him very clearly. I'm delighted I have such a 'like' photo of him, and although there are others of him around, this is a beauty. Cropped out is the cat at his feet.

He loved to fish, and I wish I could lay my hands on a wonderful photo of him holding two enormous deep sea dhufish, after a great day of fishing, the cats at his feet. He loved his cats. He loved dogs too, and used to breed dachshunds when I was a small child, but my Mum didn't like dogs, so they had to go.

He was a hoarder, a pack rat. Remind you of anyone? You should have seen his shed when he died. I still have some of his stuff, including his diary from the year I was born, noting my birth. I treasure his handwriting.

He loved his four daughters, and always vowed that he was more than happy to be the father of four girls, with no sons. I was born when he was 32, the last of us a few days after his 40th birthday. I remember making him a card for his 40th. This week I will make a 40th card for that sister.

He was allegedly domestically capable, but this was rarely demonstrated. Instead he was waited on hand and foot, his cuppa quickly fetched within minutes of his return after a hard day's work.

He was a sparse drinker who enjoyed a tipple but rarely over-indulged. Gift bottles of whisky would last for years, eked out in his occasional Irish coffee. He always smoked however, for a few years it was a pipe, later rollies.

I have a treasured memory of him in the last days of his life, in a palliative care unit at the time, sitting outside on a patio, offering me his ancient woollen dressing gown against the evening cold, while he rolled a smoke. We sat together peaceably for a time and then he was tired and I tucked him back in bed. It was the last conversation we ever shared.

The next morning he slipped into unconsciousness, and was taken home where we spent the next 48 hours preparing to let him go. He was barely rousable. The only words he spoke that weekend were of love. "Th'nk you" "Love you" as we turned him, or cleaned him, or stroked him. It was pretty special, and a great privilege to nurse him at the end of his life. He died peacefully on a Sunday at lunchtime, hours after seeing an old friend from Speedway days. We laid him out in his full Masonic regalia, as a Past Master, with family photos in his pocket, his XXXX strong peppermints, money for the paper. The months of his illness had finally seen the grease stains fade from his fingertips, and the undertakers somehow buffed out the welding sparks from his glasses. We were so astonished that we each commented on it at the viewing.

He was a man of dignity and few words, but occasionally he would rabbit on about an unlikely topic. He spoke to all men. He loved children, and called them all Charlie. Five of his grandchildren were born in his lifetime, luckily mine, as the eldest, knew him. The working windmill and swing he built for my kids are still in my yard.

He died one month after he turned 65, from pancreatic cancer, a fast and aggressive cancer that took no prisoners. It is on both sides of the family, and I feel a little daunted at the thought that I may have seen my future end. I hope I have the courage and dignity he showed.

I miss him, and yet I don't. Everything he was to me, he still is. A guide, a mentor, a role model. Steadfast, old-fashioned but interested in innovation. I have his lessons, and he is within me. I often sense his presence. Sometimes I hear myself laughing his throaty deep chuckle. Of course I do miss him, and love him, his acceptance and insights. Even now, fifteen years after his passing, I still have the instinct to tell him something. He was a thinker. I wish he could visit, but maybe he does. I know he would be proud of me, of the Laura I am today. Except he called me Jane. Its a long story. I'm not sure what he'd make of us all now. Things have really changed a lot for our family, not all for the better.

But, today I celebrate the anniversary of his birth. The roast dinner is on. I will raise a glass. Writing this has led to more than a tear or two (where're the tissues when you need them?). This is my favourite photo of my Dad and I together on my wedding day in 1985.And I am proud to be Dennis' daughter.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Learning curves

Just when you think you've got a handle on things...some toughies come your way.

Its been a rough week.

Can't really talk about it.

Some of it is up to God. It was another one that would NOT have been good at home.

But it was topped off by a little boy born 'sunny side up' this morning. Yep, I guess that really was an anterior fontanelle at 2 o'clock on VE. Little devil.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


A bit of fun I discovered while playing blog follow-on. I got to 24!

The fishies follow the cursor :)

Sigh. Back to the real world.

Friday, August 7, 2009

If it quacks like a duck...

THIS is the attention seeking duck. It quacked, and whined, and waddled up and down, and carried on until I took its photo and then it stopped. I'm not kidding. Go figure.
This the annoying, attention seeking duck's friend, who swam quietly without fuss. I took two photos of this one, to reward good behaviour.
This is what my husband insisted was a greater crested grebe.He vowed that it was really rare and we should take a photo of it. So I did. For posterity, in case it became extinct overnight. Funnily enough this 'grebe' had a lot of cousins in Stresa, and on the Borromeo islands.
This is a tree stump on Isola Bella. You can see the attraction, no?
And more of the gardens. You really musn't encourage me.
OK, I'll stop now. Genuine Paris photos next time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Italy pics (image heavy)

Ooh, I have forgotten to post any photos from Italy or Paris. Italy first, starting in Milan. Here is the Duomo, that we so loved. Isn't it pretty? It looks like a piece of starched lace, it has such a lightness about it. Sadly the interior is quite gloomy and one can't take photos...ooops...how did those get there?
This is the Victor Emmanuel Galleria (with the McDs inside). It had the usual beautiful floors. Don despairs of me taking photos of ceilings and floors, but I am a slave to beauty.
We were in Milan for Fashion week. There were lots of Beautiful Young Things sloping about. Purple is very big at the moment, and even the men's shops were full of purple pants and shirts (and of course the usual Italian obsession with red pants, or mustard pants for men...shudder). You would have loved it, Stomper. We found supermarkets and ate al fresco and had a lovely dinner in a little restaurant. The clothing stores were many and varied, and they even had a big girls shop, but sadly we didn't have time, or room in the case. I survived.
Then off by train to Stresa. We skirted the mountains we had flown over the previous day and arrived at our little hotel, with a second floor walk-up room. It was really nice. This is the view from my pillow. It was Italy folks. Lago Maggiore was quite, quite lovely. There was a small chain of islands, the Borromeo islands near the shore at Stresa and we went over to them by water taxi on our last day. Just looking at them was really nice, especially in the dusk light. This is the restaurant cafe where I accessed the internet during my stay, and we had dinner there on the first night. It was delicious.

On my rambles around the town(s) I saw gorgeous stone walls and buildings. I saw really sweet lizards (Note, no lizards were licked to back this statement). I even found a junkyard that I itched to fossick in, but restrained myself, more from lack of sufficient Italian to explain myself as a junk obsessed Aussie whose Dad had a great shed, and how it makes me nostalgic for him ..... oh, and the suitcase thing. Sigh.
I had to amuse myself while hubby was away at his conference somehow! I took a cable car up a mountain. I saw enormous tadpoles in an alpine pond. I saw cows and goats in a forest from the air. I rested in a lakeside pirate cove with pretty stones.
The conference dinner was held in a lovely ballroom. See? I am in the pic somewhere. We came home to the news of Michael Jackson's death. Funny heh? The associations that we will always make with that night. I met some interesting people, ate from silver plates and had great food. The floorshow was an interesting piece of cabaret - a shadow maker who depicted famous people - so simple, so ... weird ... but very effective. Almost every photo from that night has a silver line across people's faces from flash bounceback off the silver plates. One of the unexpected drawbacks of wealth (cough) and privilege.

The next day we went to the islands. They were gorgeous. Of course. Interesting little winding streets, old, old buildings. One island, Isola Pescatori, had a cat sanctuary for homeless cats. We found this motheaten old moggy who looks like an older, sleeker version of our cat at home, Phoenix. Puss was nobly ignoring the taunts of these cheeky swallows. When you used the public loos the contributions went to support the cats.

The largest island, Isola Bella, had long been a playground for the rich and powerful. The Duke of Borromeo (or was he a bishop.... anyway), he had a palace on this island which was open to the public along with the very famous terraced gardens. The palace contained one level that was all 'underground' and stone covered, a grotto, for use in the summer. It still contained amazing pieces of sculpture. Napoleon slept in this bed. There was an enormous tapestry gallery. The amount of money to build this place must have been staggering. Mussolini has dined in the restaurants, along with many famous actors and even a Pope. The views from the gardens looked back towards the mainland and the village of Stresa. It was really pretty gorgeous, if a bit OTT Italian style. We were impressed, but cool about it.
Are you getting sick of photos yet? Sorry. It is very hard to whittle it all down. There were interesting things in many place: gardens, tree stumps, views, angles, attention-seeking ducks, inebriated husbands....I'll spare you that one, but I do have lots of photos of him hooting like a monkey.
Next time, Paris!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Many and varied

Hello Monday.

Another weekend on night shift was had. Friday night shift will go down as a bit of a doozy, for busyness, for grace under pressure and under fire, for teamwork. I'm not sure how many babies were born, but it was probably about 10 on Friday night alone, and around 22 all up over the 3 shifts I worked. There were Code Blues, abruptions transferred in from other places, flat babies, newly birthed women being shipped back to hospitals closer to home, lists of which hospitals could take what cases (antenatal women, postnatal women). There were births in the assessment unit, successful VBACs, unsuccessful VBACs, and more. There were tears (sniff, sniff), and tears (ouchy). It was pretty mad!

I had a tough situation on Friday night where my woman ended up with a CS after a long and difficult labour. By God she was brave and tried so hard to get that baby out, but in the end it was a good decision to bring her out 'through the sunroof'. Such a beautiful baby, such a lovely couple, so close and a great team, very practical and down-to-earth, after a long few nights. I lost the plot briefly, very emotional about the decision for CS, but the family were great as I returned to the room, red-eyed, and accepted my warning stop-signed hand 'DON'T talk to me about it' gesture as a sign of solidarity as we just got on with it, and I was fine after that. It was a good decision, and I feel much better about it all in retrospect than I did at that moment. It was a rare thing for me. Once again, although we had threatened to have words with that baby when she was born, young Bella was too beautiful and soon had us all completely under her spell with no hard feelings.

Saturday night was pretty hectic as well. Arriving at work feeling slightly anxious about the thought of another stressful and emotional night, I walked into my room expecting to get a baby as the coordinator had said I would be getting one soon in that room. The curtain was drawn and I waited behind it to be invited in after announcing myself in a low voice. I could hear the familiar sounds of instruments being handled and clamps being applied, but no words of encouragement, or congratulations, or, worse, baby crying. I peeked around and asked if they had a baby yet and was told tersely 'Yes at 2104' I could see a purple baby and grabbed some gloves and followed the second midwife to the cot in the corner behind a tangle of the woman's possessions. The heartrate was low, bloody low, so I got started on cardiac massage without delay as we called for a code blue paediatric. The baby was very blue, but had some tone, and responded well to the CPR. At 3 minutes she was just starting to gasp a bit, and with the improved cardiac output was starting to pink up as we pumped the oxygen around her little body, and the team were arriving as she started to cry a little. By 4 minutes she was breathing independently, with some facial oxygen. By the time she was 8 minutes old she was in her Mum's arms, although she needed to go down to the nursery for observation.

Phew! That shook the cobwebs out! And restored my confidence in my skills. Phew. The woman was a tricky and complex case with a major history, and it took a bit of time to sort out the whole backstory, but she was up and showered and on the ward by 11pm.

As I returned at 11.20pm I was almost mown down as a trolley containing a young woman was brought around from assessment, her eyes wide with shock. I was available and thrown in to a just vacated and clean, but unreplenished room with her as she screamed in panic for an epidural. It was her second baby and it was determined to be born by midnight it seemed! Each contraction brought on a fresh bout of ear-splitting and sustained screaming. As it subsided the young Mum turned her bulging eyes on me and begged for an epidural. Then the next wave came and she would scream again in panic and say 'what do I do?'

The other staff were great. I asked for a doptone, and if there was another midwife who could stay for 20 minutes (there was, luckily) so she opened delivery sets, and drew up oxytocics, and within 2 minutes we were ready for a birth, and after 5 minutes we were ready for anything. While they organised the technicalities I stayed seated at Mum's knee, soothing her in a gentle voice, reassuring her that she was very clever, and very good at this, she didn't need to do anything, just let it happen. I could see some twitching and unflowering (accompanied by a bit of freaking out) and gradually she settled down and surrendered to it. It was actually a very nice birth once she let go of the panic and stopped trying to hold it in. Once the irresistible pushing reflex kicked in she was superb, and listened really well to guidance and at 2343 she gently pushed out a daughter (with a compound hand tucked under her left ear) with an intact perineum. The baby was vigorous and was chirping before she was fully out. Mum was a bit shocked and her first instinct was to say 'yeah great take it away, I'm tired' but after a minute or so she took a look at her and showed a bit more curiosity. She had heaps of black curls and big dark eyes, and was very interested in looking around, so soon had her stunned Mum under her spell.

What a remedy for my soul. A quickie! Just what I needed! I skipped off to tea with number 52 on my mind. I spent the next 2 hours sorting out her paperwork, and getting her up to the ward (where she apologised for being 'rude' to me - nothing of the sort - and admitted her throat was sore some screaming). She had been visited by her family including hubby and her 1 year old - who was incredibly beautiful with the same dark curls, big blue eyes and the most incredible eyelashes I have ever seen - she looked like she had been in a beauty parlour all afternoon!

The rest of the shift was spent on paperwork from the previous 2 births that had been unattended while we dashed around. I then went down to the nursery to see some twins I was caring for 3 weeks ago, and sadly the smaller twin had died. It was not unexpected, but still I was a bit tearful. His parents were very pragmatic about his chances of survival, and were grateful to have a few hours with him, not expecting him to survive the birth, and he lived for just over two weeks. I visited him and his twin brother 3 times, and will never forget him. He was the smallest living little person I (or any of us) had ever seen. He was such a fighter. Our nursery staff really are terrific. They managed to have the surviving twin attend the service in an incubator on portable breathing support, an accommodation that I know will mean alot to his family. They have been very brave. I hope to see them soon.

As we prepared to leave there was a birth underway where the trace had looked really crap for the last 40 minutes. We were gloved up outside the door to rescuscitate again if necessary, which would have been a fitting bookend to the night, but the day staff arrived before the birth and shooed us out the door. I wonder what happened.

Back to the real daylight world this week. I will miss the night staff. All our staff are great and we have terrific teamwork, but the night girls are a special crew. I will see them, and work with them again, in a few weeks.

I love being a midwife.