Sunday 16 January 2022

A year in review: Health and wellbeing, part five

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-third in the series. 

Though I was beset by grief amplified by concern over the unresolved matter of mislaid photographs, at least a shot of the vaccine hadn’t adversely impacted my health, and on 10 May – eight days after getting a Covid jab at the doctor’s office – I was just typing away as usual on my computer’s keyboard (at 6am with my third cup of morning coffee placed close to me). Again at my desk upstairs, the black-and-white plastic parts of the keyboard functioning as designed but cooperating with quick fingers, appendages that might’ve more profitably been wielding pencil or knife.

On 13 May as usual I’d gotten a fresh reading from my scales, but this time one that illustrated how the most recent lost kilo had so far been the most stubborn. It took three weeks – give or take a day – to get rid of it and though I’d felt puzzled (though not exactly angry) at the delay I pressed on regardless.

On 21 May, I wrote on Facebook:
Up early this morning and was concerned abt soreness at bottom of left foot. I'd chucked out a pair of shoes bec the inner sole'd been worn through and had formed a hole. But then I looked up symptoms of AZ and it said a pinpoint bruise is one of them, so called 000. They put me onto a triage nurse who asked questions, and then she said I shd go to Emergency. I caught a cab. The doctor at RPAH checked out my foot and said it was a callous, so I left and caught a cab home. Back by 7.15am and met my nextdoor neighbour outside the front of the house. The driver on the way out was listening to 2GB and the one on the way home was listening to 2KY.
I felt a bit stupid explaining this to the taxi driver on the way home but early in the morning – before dawn – things can loom large. I’d apologised to the hospital doctor who checked my foot but she said it was ok and not to worry. While I was sitting waiting to be called inside a young woman fled through the Emergency Dept’s entrance, shrugging off her hospital gown and her jacket and leaving them on the floor of the room. A man picked them up and put them on a chair then went to the receptionist nurse to explain what had happened and she then looked at the CCTV footage.

The taxi driver on the way out an Italian migrant. We talked about Israel on the trip. His son is a doctor, and his daughter also has at least one degree. He said he’d never gone to university and it was unclear if he’d even gone to school.

On the second-last day of May I had a flare-up of my old problem and impressions of doom alternated with sensations linked to ideas of salvation. This was linked to the New England trip I’d planned, and for which I’d already booked motel rooms. The day before I’d gone to a meeting of the Sydney Friends of Myall Creek where plans relating to the annual commemoration ceremony were made and discussed. I’d offered to help but, a day later while sitting at home at my desk surrounded by the ephemera of my life, I had second thoughts and imagined I’d cancel the trip. I got through Saturday night, then Sunday night. Then Monday came around and I was still calm, each moment a cause to celebrate – I’d gotten this far! – my reserve accompanied by happy intimations.

Though never realised. I wondered if uncertainty would now be my default setting. The weight loss sped up again (see image below) so I was on track to meeting my target goal of 85kg. It was about this time that I decided finally to cancel the New England trip due to stress associated with the long drive and the three-day stay in country motels where I would have to eat food that might lead to me breaking my diet. I felt overwhelmed on Sunday 6 June so called the Inverell motel to cancel the booking I’d made some weeks earlier. I admitted to myself that I’d tried to bite off more than I could chew, but I couched the decision in terms that wouldn’t result in a sense of failure. I decided to be kind to myself and privilege my city life, giving my attention and all my energies to writing – which was the thing, at this point in my life, occupying most of my thoughts when I wasn’t scrounging Facebook Marketplace for cheap art.

It was taking about two weeks now to lose a kilogram (see below). The day before this screenshot was taken something very upsetting happened while I was driving.

I’d agreed with a woman in Wyong to pick up a painting. This trip would necessitate going on the Pacific Motorway, which I’d used in May to get to a town near Newcastle, a trip that’d been successful but extremely stressful because of heavy rain. For my new adventure it was only raining slightly, nevertheless as soon as I entered Northconnex I started to experience an accelerated heartrate, and at one point in my journey down the tunnel pulled over into an emergency bay in an attempt to pacify it, putting the car in “park” and switching on the hazard lights. I sat waiting for my chest to grow calm and after a few minutes started moving again but found that, in order to keep my heart at an acceptable rate, I had to stay at 80km per hour at the outermost. 

I stopped again to rest at Mooney Mooney and in this way – tootling along with, for part of the journey, a teal-coloured VW Kombi sitting at my speed to the rear of me – I made it to my destination and picked up the painting. The woman asked me, “What’s so special about this painting?” I asked her why she had such a question and she said, “I’ve had so many people asking about it.” It is a lovely little oil that needs a bit of work to restore it to its original perfection but otherwise unharmed (no scratches or chips). I’d asked the woman before going up there if there was damage and she replied to the effect that there wasn’t. 

I completed the journey in the company of MMM Newcastle and Hope FM (a Christian radio station based in Sydney) on the car’s dial, the trip back better as I could go at 90km per hour without experiencing a rapid heartrate and when I got home I celebrated by making coffee to drink while I relaxed in front of the news. The heart problem happened again on the first day of July but this time within the geographical confines of the conurbation of Sydney. I’d gone to see the GP about a corn on my foot which needed to have cold applied to get rid of, and after my appointment drove to Broadway Shopping Centre to pick up my coffee from the post office and get milk and bread from Coles. But as soon as I started rolling down Bay Street toward Wentworth Park, in fact once I’d emerged out of the parking garage, my heart rate went up, and I gently went all the way to Mascot with the thing thumping alarmingly in my chest. I stopped twice to calm down on Botany Road – once at Waterloo and once at Green Square – but it made no difference, and in the end I decided each time just to suck it up and get home as quickly as possible. As I approached my ultimate destination the heartrate became more regular so that, as I drove on my street just before turning into our driveway, it was almost normal. Once home I phoned my psychiatrist to make an appointment, but the first available slot wasn’t until the end of the month. The receptionist said she’d put me on the list of patients to be notified if someone else cancelled an appointment, and a few days later she called back to tell me a slot had become available on the following Friday.

The chart above shows my progress, having, now, practically reached my ultimate goal. I found no problems driving very locally (to Wolli Creek) but had had problems driving on busier suburban roads (to Lakemba) and had consequently learned how to master the animal that is me but that also lives inside me as a separate entity. By just telling myself to chill and by slowing the car down a bit I can bring my heart under control. It seems as though my being – I don’t know what else to call this thing that is “me” but that seems, also, to have a mind of its own – can’t handle too much stress, and that just by slightly reducing the burden the world puts on it I can gauge and rein in its response. 

It’s difficult to express how it works; if I say I just tell myself to “chill” then people might think I’m being flippant but I can feel fear shrink my balls and my legs become light before my heart starts to speed up in response to fear. Submitting to it only makes the problem worse. It’s a warning sign and when I feel it I concentrate on the road, telling myself I’m in no danger – the traffic might be a bit heavy but there’s no need for alarmed at cars cruising along on either side of me. That hill up ahead is manageable and – look! – if I just break a little bit early then I won’t be at risk of getting too close to the car moving along the road in front. I tell myself that it holds no danger, that I will be fine driving along like this – turn the RAV4 to the right and prepare to stop at the traffic light I can see in the distance – and my heart remains docile, like a small animal in its burrow that has settled down for the night so that it can rest. 

I lull it to submission so in this way on 9 July I successfully made it to Pyrmont to see my psychiatrist. It’d only been a week since my last visit but the new dispensation made another appointment urgent. As we talked I came to better understand the thing. I’d mulled it over on the way to his office as I headed down the street to the GP’s clinic to get my second Covid shot. The fear I felt at home before leaving, on the way downstairs to the car, let me anticipate more fear, and if I gave into it I’d be left with a feeling of shame but also with the boredom that must accompany the dull terrain of capitulation. My future would be closed, those treasured avenues of escape from the present blocked, so by continuing to walk downstairs to the RAV4 I opened up the future to new possibilities – things that would otherwise remain closed off, stolen from me in advance of any action on my part. I talked about this with Dr Ouzas and he – possibly predictably – agreed it was important not to let the feeling of fear overcome me. He took the practical step of giving me a prescription for beta blockers as this type of medication can be useful to subdue the heart. Unlike antidepressants it doesn’t need to be built up in its dosage over time, and can work immediately, therefore function as a kind of prophylactic. He said that people who face the public to give speeches sometimes use a pill, taking one or two on each of the preceding few days leading up to the event they feel nervous about. I wished I hadn’t earlier taken myself off this medication.

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