Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

A final diagnosis

A tub of yoghurt followed by two horse pills is my breakfast these days.  All washed down with one or two cups of tea. 

Don’t be fooled by the size.  These ‘horse’ pills are bigger than you think. 

By the time one of them hits the back of my throat it turns sideways, even as I put it into my mouth pointy end forward. 

To swallow one is to gag and then gulp down mouthfuls of water before they finally settle somewhere in my stomach.

I feared I was on the control dose, by the absence of taste.  They taste like nothing, just the faint tang of plastic, but the woman who asks me questions and runs me through tests told me the pills are made in a factory to certain specifications and all the pills, whether the real thing or the control, are made to taste the same. 

I had hoped I’d be on the real thing, not the placebo. 

I had hoped I might observe remarkable changes in my cognition, in my memory, in my ability to perform these Lumosity type tasks that the researchers set every time I visit the Swinburne University where the tests take place. 

The pills are meant to contain a mint extract, and the hypothesis follows that this extract will improve cognitive functioning in people over fifty. 

I haven’t noticed any deterioration, but as for improvement, there’s none there either. 

I agreed to participate in this study, not only for the altruism of giving back to the community via scientific research, but also because they offered an MRI as part of the procedure.

A free MRI.  I can establish once and for all that my brain is okay.

In the waiting room at the department for psychopharmacology, the drawing board near reception is filled to the brim with notices of rooms for rent and requests to participate in other research projects. 

There are many that deal with so-called 'mental health'. 
‘Do you know of or live with someone who suffers from bi-polar disorder?  We’d like to talk to you as part of our research into the condition.’

I cringe.  I have an aversion to the use of psychiatric jargon.  

People use these expressions often these days.  So and so has bi-polar, as if it's a concrete and physical disability, like being born blind or suffering from cancer. 

So and so has depression.  I much prefer people turn these nouns into verbs.  I reckon it’s more helpful and meaningful to say, ‘So and so is depressed’. 

It has something to do with the reductive nature of these psychiatric categories.  When used as nouns they speak about a person as a category. 

When we say someone has lung cancer, in our mind’s eye we hone in on the horrors of the cancer, the difficulties of breathing. 

We might ask the standard stereotypical question where lung cancer is involved: ‘Did she smoke’, but we do not assume more about the person.  The person still has an identity that goes beyond their diagnosis.

But when we say someone has schizophrenia, for instance, it’s as if their identity is subsumed under the label, and they cease to be a person beyond their diagnosis. 

We like to label people and things.  It helps us to get a grip on them, but it’s dangerous as well. 

The fantasy seems to be if you get the diagnosis right, correct treatment automatically follows. 

I’ve been running through reruns of that TV series House, about a grumpy doctor and diagnostician who works in a busy New Jersey hospital. 

The stories tend to be formulaic and dramatic.  They start with someone unexpectedly falling ill, or having an accident.  The person is rushed into hospital and for some strange reason, generally to do with difficulties in diagnosis as to the cause of the problem, Dr House and his team are called in to give a diagnosis. 

They start off with hunches based on symptoms, then treat according to those hunches, one of which invariably leads the person to have a heart attack, a stroke or some other major episode in which we are led to believe this person will die. 

The person rarely dies, only survives and amazingly, the next day they discover the real cause, which might be a tumour, or some internal bleed, or some unspoken decision on the part of the patient to confess to having done something he or she hadn’t owned up to earlier, like taking cocaine, or LSD or some other illegal substance that’s made them sick. 

House’s philosophy is that patients always lie. 

The body, on the other hand, obeys certain procedures and from time to time the camera peeks inside, via fantastical imagery of what goes on within a blood vessel, a pumping heart, or wasted lungs.

Is it that people lie?  Or do they omit information or construct a story around events so that they don’t disappoint their loved ones, or don't get into trouble with the law? 

People, myself inclusive, reinvent themselves in order to present their best selves, or their worst selves, if that’s their inclination.  In any case, it’s an attempt to reconstruct some sense of themselves that meets the needs of the moment.

I’m reconstructing my identity with a move of blog sites, and I’m fearful you won’t recognise me elsewhere. 

Please try, otherwise we might be saying goodbye. 

I’d hate that.  I’m not ready to see the last of you yet.  

I hope you’re happy to continue visiting me, even though it might involve a few extra clicks of your mouse to get you there. 

You’ll find me at: 

Saturday, September 05, 2015


My periodontist has recommended I endure another gum graft on one of my lower teeth to prevent further recession of the gum.  

I have already endured two of these procedures.  I would prefer my teeth were able to stay in my mouth, those that remain, and given I have a full lower jaw of teeth it would be good to keep it so, but the thought of another graft leaves me cold. 

Two factors: for one the cost, but that’s not the overriding concern. 

The overriding concern is the cut and stitches and having to hold my mouth still for several hours after the procedure; having to avoid hard food for weeks; and on that first day and the next, eating only soft foods, luke warm, to give the graft a chance to take. 

It’s almost a miracle to me that a doctor can peel a small portion of skin from the roof of my mouth and then attach it to the section of my gum that is receding just above the root and over time and with care the skin will attach itself to my gum to form new healthy tissue that will then attach to my tooth and stop it from falling out. 

I managed to put off the procedure to early next year, during the summer when the weather makes the thought of such assaults on my body less awesome. 

It’s hereditary, my sister tells me, a legacy from our father.  His teeth fell out with gum disease.  

I would have thought they fell out through neglect. 

These were the days when people had their teeth extracted and full dentures inserted as a wedding present.  The days before fluoride.  The days when teeth rotted in people’s mouths and no one looked askance.

My father never complained of toothache, at least not within my earshot, and so I’m left wondering about the story of his teeth. 

I never went near enough to my father to remember this time when his teeth were still his own, if only they dangled precariously from receding roots.  Perhaps they fell out before my time.  But my father was only thirty-six when I was born, he must still have had his teeth then, or did he leave them behind in Holland? 

I grew up hiding my teeth; terrified that someone might notice they needed attention and drag me off to the nearest dentist.  The dentist might then look into my mouth.  And the look on his face…

I dreamed of going into hospital, of sleeping the sleep of the anesthetised and of waking up with a full set of dentures, and the fantasy of never having to worry about my teeth again.  

My dreams did not come true, instead I kept most of my teeth and my worries, and I now have a periodontist to keep them all - teeth and worries - in place.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

'I could'a been a contender'

My husband has gone back to sharpening knives.  Not for their murderous properties, but for the sheer beauty he finds in the smooth knife-edge, the blade that can cut a swathe through the hairs on his arm. 

I find it almost unbearable to watch, the blade so sharp it could splice a single hair. 

My husband pulled out several of his sharpening stones the other day for the purpose of washing them down in readiness for use.  They form part of his collection.  Several dull coloured blocks of fine pressed stone against which he rubs each knife blade. 

My husband also has a sharpening wheel in the workshop outside, his go-to sharpening stone when friends or relatives come round with their small collection of kitchen knives, blunted from too much use. 

My husband likes to relax at the wheel and move the blade up and down the surface of the round stone, as it turns slowly with a steady flow of water dripping over its surface. 

I do not understand my husband’s passion for knives other than the passion of one who likes to collect things.  Who likes to have in his possession an example of every variety of knife available: cooks knives, paring knives, fish knives, bread knives, Japanese and German knives, pocket knives and cleavers. 

Many of these knives we use, others lie tucked away, hidden at the bottom of drawers and wrapped in tea towels or swathes of calico cloth. 

Recently, my husband came across a man who makes knives for a living, a blacksmith of sorts, who forges his blades to your specifications. 

The knives come back in rustic form, without handles, unless you pay extra.  But they are good knives, heavy to hold and excellent for all manner of food preparation. 

When we go away for a holiday, it is not unusual for my husband to take along a couple of knives from our kitchen.  Even when we stay with friends, he does not trust the quality of their knives for cooking and so he brings his own. 

Besides his love of knives, my husband has multiple interests – woodturning, book binding, jewellery making, photography, genealogy, gardening, coin collecting, cooking and preserving – which I pitch against my one obsession, writing. 

It puts me in mind of my father, his passion for activities beyond home, not that he was passionate about home.  My father collected books, and photography equipment.  He had dreams of building a yacht in our back yard and bought books on the subject. 

He wanted to make something of himself. 

Who does not want to make something of themselves?  And who does not suffer disappointment in the struggle.

I thought of these words in the shower this morning as I pondered the fate of my would-be book: Marlon Brando’s words from On the Waterfront,
‘I coulda been a contender’. 

Yesterday, I met a young woman who will help me to transfer this blog into a Wordpress blog. 

I don’t know whether I dare say this out loud in case the people who currently host my blog, the people at blogspot will object.  Not that there are people behind these ventures, real flesh and blood people who can read these words and object to my infidelity. 

There are matrix like operations behind the scenes that control these processes, I suspect, owned by someone, but I do not understand the workings of these things and therefore have enlisted the help of the technologically savvy. 

I started this blog in 2006.  My young assistant remarked on this, as if it were a long time to be blogging.  As if it were a strange thing to continue on such a path instead of moving onto something new. 

I think again of my husband’s interests.  When one starts to lose its allure he can move onto another, and back again.  

There’s diversity there.

But my passion is relentless.  It does not shift, except perhaps in its content. 

There’s always something different to write about, and yet I am fearful these days of almost every word I write, in case it offends someone. 

The thought police are loud in my head.  ‘How can you say that?’  How dare you utter such things out loud?

Do all children learn this?  This business of keeping things to yourself, this business of holding thoughts inside for fear of offending someone. 

Lately, I find myself trying to be more circumspect.  At meetings with colleagues, I try to ‘hold my tongue’. 

Another of those expressions from when I was a child and learned to hold my tongue, but it takes such an effort. 

Virginia Woolf writes about ‘a finger held to the lips’, a sense that we must not speak the unspeakable. 

Cut a knife through it. 

Stop this now. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A change of face

In not too many weeks, I will be revamping this blog.

I will give it a new lease on life by transferring to Wordpress.

I hope you will recognise me when I get my hair cut as it were, when I change my wardrobe, when I get this makeover, but it will still be the same me underneath.

From this:

To this:

To this:

To this:

And the future identity as it evolves.