Saturday, 15 January 2022

A year in review: Health and wellbeing, part four

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about my health! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-second in the series. 

On Anzac Day, due to the delayed settlement on the house which had taken so long but still hadn’t finished, and which had caused me to fret and worry quite badly, I completed a terrible night, so awful that I’d immediately, lying in bed in the cold and dark, messaged Joe – who’d built and then, back in August, sold me the house – and then took a decision so that I needed to call him seeking assurance of good faith. The weekend is anyway a time I detest since it removes the normal resorts of daily life, replacing them with inferior substitutes. Events overtook me because of an underlying health condition, and produced a grim scenario at 8pm as sleep evaded me and I helplessly scratched my itchy skin. 

I called Joe and he reassured me but small things took on an unaccustomed appearance and became over-size. Adding to this cause of distress was the fact that my weight loss had slowed to a crawl and on 25 April I was still 89.9kg by the scale. Every night I’d anticipate a preliminary verdict when weighing my body prior to showering, and each morning I’d get the final result when, upon rising, I’d again use the scales. A charade – I’d show off to myself having achieved a small victory – but without this life’s daily burden sat more heavily on my shoulders. 

I compromised and resorted to housework, unpacking boxes left over from the move that had sat on the floor of my studio. 

The room still kept this name despite the fact that I’d made no art inside it. Filled with memories and family photos – in boxes stacked on the floor and with more filling drawers in a chest brought from my old place – I filled the drawers of an Ikea chest of a kind such that I doubted, that autumn weekend, I’d have had the motivation or energy to go and buy and put together. I felt flat, exhausted by concerns I’d only brought upon myself when I decided to find a new house to live in. 

It was now nine months since that conversation with Ming. Would the outcome be worth the emotional turmoil I’d gone through? Anzac day’s activity produced results. The photo above shows a worktable Joe gave me, with document- and photo-filled boxes stacked underneath it. The following photo shows the northeast corner of the studio where I’d stacked boxes mainly containing family photographs.

The following photo shows the southeast corner of the same room, the chest of drawers full of photos, each drawer packed with positives and negatives. Thousands of them with images of eager-looking people and attractive places and things – though mainly people. Who’ll ever take the time to open, classify, and label them? 

Sitting within a suave halo of virtuous feelings induced by all this activity – carrying empty boxes down to the garage and the storeroom, stacking paintings bought on Facebook Marketplace with a view to taking them out of town to have D-rings attached to their frames, dropping belongings off to Ming and Omer and bringing back more empty boxes for storage in the basement – I remembered the night before. 

I’d filled my morning with good intentions and wasn’t going to waste my satisfaction indulging bad thoughts. I didn’t miss the anxiety. In the afternoon Ming asked for my help so I went out and drove around the city, getting back just before bedtime, when I took my antipsychotic wafer and went to sleep.
The next morning I emailed my solicitor again before getting in touch with my daughter and talking about her mother. Joe said, in a message, that Friday would be the day of settlement, and I had no choice but to believe him. My solicitor, Paul, advised me, when he received my anxious email, to seek diversions such as art gallery visits, and he suggested exhibitions, currently open to the public, of two of his clients. 

I sent my daughter Adelaide the following photo as it pleased me to do so. The picture at top right is hers and the one at bottom left is mine. Hers was made when she was about eight years old. Mine was made when I was about 20 years old. The botanical specimens at bottom were mum’s idea and I had them reframed to match an arrangement made 40 years earlier (a bit later on this piece’d move downstairs to a bedroom on the first floor). The black-and-white photo at top left is by Aunt Madge, and dates from her time in Japan with the occupation forces. Ada’s drawing is titled ‘Cat House’. Mine is titled ‘The Frozen Giant’.

On 27 April Paul emailed to say that settlement would happen on the Friday of that week, which would be the last day of the month. The estate agent called me with an identical message. In fact it was his phone call that prompted me to email Paul. I felt relief, as if a judicial sentence had been, at the last minute, withdrawn, but on the 29th there was a rash of emails – mainly to and from Paul – as we attempted to nail down the amount of the balance owing. Even early on Friday morning as I sat writing this memorial the reckoning still wasn’t entirely clear. I got a call from Mark, the estate agent, as I was walking to the doctor’s office looking to see my GP about booking myself in for the Covid vaccine. Mark asked me if I had his firm’s trust account details and I was nonplussed, telling him that my lawyer would handle everything. He said he’d call Paul, but the reasons for Mark’s phone call were unclear to me with my overburdened state of mind. Did he have some ulterior motive? Why would he think that I, myself, was going to transfer all of that money? Thoughts raced in my head. 

I needed to calm down. The GP said that, for the most part, his surgery was vaccinating people aged 70 and above but because of my heart history (ablation due to supraventricular tachycardia) I’d be eligible. He got me to fill out a questionnaire detailing my health especially focusing on things that might make blood clotting more likely. I answered “No” to every question, and Dr Nanda put me down for the jab in two days’ time. He said that sometimes there are side-effects but that it was normal in a small number of cases – even for such common medicines as Panadol – for them to happen, adding that they could only offer the AstraZeneca jab due to the relatively higher storage temperature required for this medication, and that for Pfizer I’d have to go to a state-run clinic.

At just before 3pm that day, asking for an update, I emailed my solicitor. Mark had just called me. Paul’s secretary replied on his behalf with news that the transaction would be done by the top of the hour. She added a small amount of detail to the effect that the other party’s bank’d presented a small problem that needed resolution. I messaged Mark with news and he soon got back to me saying that Joe said that everything was fine at their end. Paul emailed me saying that the problem of partition of the property titles had still not been cleared up – it’d been a concern of Paul’s for weeks, and Joe was supposed to have sorted it out – and Paul said he’d get back to me at 3.45pm – settlement now pushed back to 3.30pm – so I waited, filled with presentiments of doom and a thought that I’d have to spend another weekend on tenterhooks. At 3.50pm I was still waiting for notification of settlement, and then later, at about 4.30pm, Paul called me to tell me the arrangement was final. Joe called me almost at the same time to congratulate me, and I called Mark about 30 minutes later to let him know too.
He said he’d come over to have a look at the place the following week. I slept soundly and went to bed late – I tried to watch ‘Vera’ but couldn’t manage staying up to see all of it – and woke relatively late, at around 5am. Just before 7am I heard an aircraft growl overhead, which sounded, were they ever to be given a physical form, like thoughts pressing on the human mind. I wondered what thoughts actually sound like, and imagined that they’d need some sort of mediating device to give them a type of audible frequency perceptible to the human ear. We only know what our senses tell us, and this is only a partial version of actual physical reality. Would the sounding thoughts of millions form a harmony or what? All of the thoughts of all of the people in the world could never work in together in a way such as you might find in a sonata or a quartet by Schubert.

A man dead too young. How many wasted dreams is our world built upon? What is the cost, in real terms, of putting up a house? If you could quantify the amount, how would you express it? What’s the worth of an hour without worries? What kind of life has none? On 1 May I took the following photo, and it shows the view over local residences looking toward Port Botany. Seen through the gauze of my curtain, with its vegetal pattern – Steffi Forester’s “bold and beautiful” California ocean-side look – I felt at last a call – a feeling the future might reveal if it could communicate – but it was just a message from the past I’d not noticed before due to disturbances made by a phalanx of random ideas.

My immediate goal – in addition to reaching a body weight of 85kg – was to secure visitors. I’d gotten the furniture and fittings installed, I’d used a range of equipment and devices, but I stood alone like a general on his battlefield. I needed witnesses to flatter my self regard. To enjoy the same things I enjoyed. To give me a different perspective so that I wouldn’t get tired of my possessions? To reward me with casual words? To validate by way of weaknesses in their critiques?

There’d be more to pay – Paul had delayed part of his fee in order to get the settlement done on the assigned day – but it’d be a week before I learned how much. On the Sunday after settlement I went to Pyrmont at about midday and parked near the Fish Market where, on Wattle Street, there was a vacant, metred, 2-hour bay. I got to the surgery by about 1pm and sat down to wait a few minutes before being asked into a consulting room by a woman I’d never met before. She asked me why I was there and I told her what Dr Nanda had said, which she confirmed after looking at her computer screen. She then went through the possible problems with vaccines, particularly with the medicine I was to have put into my body. I was ushered into the room next door where a nurse agreed with me when I suggested taking off my shirt. She gave me the AstraZeneca jab after getting my name and date of birth, then gave me a yellow card (see picture) with a Post-It having the time of the injection written on it. I was to stay in the waiting room for 15 minutes from this point in time, before I should make an appointment with the receptionist for the second jab, then I’d be free to leave.

On the street I felt a bit nauseous and, while walking toward the Fish Market, light-headed, but they were mild symptoms and – according to the fact sheet the surgery handed out – ones that should’ve been expected. Feeling slightly off-colour, after buying some food I drove home, superstitiously monitoring the distance travelled and glancing repeatedly and self-consciously at the RAV4’s odometer. After five days there’s a chance, with the vaccine, of developing a blood clot somewhere in the body, but the doctor with whom, on the day, I consulted advised that this occurs with only one in every 300,000 people, mainly in younger women. After getting home at 2.30pm I made and ate lunch then went up to use the computer.

I used it again in the morning at breakfast time, and in the evening before bed I was on the computer once more but during the day I was often driving, going out to the framers’ at Richmond on the Eastern Distributor and the M2. The voyage must’ve disturbed me; I’d done the laundry in the early morning after waking up, and before bed was trying to remember if I’d hung clothes out to dry. It finally occurred to me that I’d used the dryer and had already put some of them away. I felt fine the next morning as I ironed shirts, then put the rest of my clothes away in the cupboard.

On the Wednesday morning it was raining but I drove to Newcastle in the RAV4 to pick up Facebook Marketplace purchases I talk about elsewhere in this memorial. Thursday and Friday mornings marked the passage of four and five days since the vaccination injection and I’m able to record the fact that, at these times, I was still ok. As the news attested this wasn’t always the case with people who’d had the vaccine. 

Despite not always being able to get as much sleep as I wanted, and in the face of financial worries caused by the virus, I kept my spirits up. I owed it to people around me to be functional and, if not happy, at least suitably content. What kind of friend would I be if things were otherwise? For example, on Friday 7 May when I caught the bus and the light rail to Circular Quay to have lunch with Grant and a friend of his who I’d never met before, an Argentinian with an Irish name. The journey was delayed by the fact that I forgot to take face masks with me – the state government had reintroduced restrictions due to an unexpected outbreak – so, returning quickly to my house along a street leading from the bus stop, I put a handful of the things in my jacket pocket (next to my heart), then headed back out and caught the number 309 to Central Station. 

While I was sitting in it I conversed briefly with a man about Waterloo’s Matavai and Turangi towers. He was with two women on seats just in front of me and I’d overheard him going on about a local housing estate due to be demolished to make way for new construction located next to a train station being built on Botany Road, north along which we were travelling. Of course he was critical of the state government on this account. 

Arriving at Central I jogged – actually jogged – a short way in order to make it to the tram that was arriving from the southeast, passing as I did a rank of bronze statues that’d been set up on Chalmers Street. The tram is efficient and quick enough for the purpose of city transit – it saves you time waiting on foot at traffic lights where you risk getting hit, standing at the kerb, by an impatient driver – but I was more than slightly surprised at the lack of patronage. On the way home instead I caught a train at Circular Quay to Mascot, whence I got a cab home.

The silence on Ming’s part on that day should’ve rung alarm bells for me because the next day she told me Omer had broken up with her. I felt worse than she seemed to feel about this turn of events and had strange dreams during the night. In the evening I drove her to Ikea to buy kitchen supplies, dropped her off at her unit block, and came home to my place to sleep. 

The next day she was on the train to Wollongong to see Omer but there was no positive outcome from this unplanned trip. It was Mother’s Day and I felt depressed, partly on account of all of the photos I’d lost in the various relocations I’d completed since 2014, the year mum went into a nursing home. It was unusual for me to think about her death as I’d largely stopped feeling guilty about it, had ceased mentally punishing myself for putting her in an environment where she was more likely to get an infection (there were additional reasons for this illness: cellulitis and myelodysplastic syndrome) and it seemed unreasonable to continue to take responsibility for something destined anyway to eventuate. 

But this year on this day I also felt anger because of lost opportunities her inaction had resulted in. Ming’s engaging in art school brought it daily to the surface of my consciousness as, for every question she posed about art practice or art history, I was able to dredge up answers, having imbibed the lore from an early age, and having started on my own practice well in advance of leaving secondary school.
Through Ming I now lived another life, one I personally regretted because it never happened and partly because mum’d made no embassy to the kingdom of dad on my behalf in order to ensure it came to pass. Her own father had wanted, she told me on several occasions when we were together in those last years of her life, to be a journalist, but because he’d done well in chemistry at secondary school his parents had insisted he become a pharmacist. “How could she let history repeat itself?” I had wondered over many years and more than sadly. 

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