Episode Eight: a diverting medical misadventure


Technicolour yawns and other fluid delights

Warning: if medical details, and snot, vomit and blood bother you, please refrain from reading any further into this blogisode)

As treated fairly briefly in some earlier episodes, medical and health issues tend to become key preoccupations and topics of conversation as we age as gracefully as possible.

I have been subjected to a couple of viruses lately, along with most of the East Coast population it seems. Hence my suffering from  these ailments does not in any way relate to my age it would seem, as there is no ageism for a virus. One was a spectacular (in the worst sense) gastric bug. Feeling pretty unwell, but determined to carry on, I was heading out for a Sydney drinks event I had organised with about 20 film graduates, and an amazing ‘technicolour yawn’ (to use Barry Humphries’ memorable term) happened just outside and then hastily back inside my studio apartment, all over the floor and my lovely clean clothes. No more details are probably necessary, though I have to thank the angel Lucilla for caring for me so wonderfully post the special event. I somehow  managed to stagger to the Hollywood Hotel after changing my clothes and cleaning up what I could. Hopefully none of my former students and colleagues noticed my disarray at the reunion drinks…

On my arrival back in Brisbane several shaky days later, I developed a five-day  head cold, a veritable ‘phlegmorama snotfest’ – call it what you will…(thanks Madam Ping and Savannah for these graphic words describing your own similar symptoms). It is rare to talk openly about bodily fluids ejected from various orifices of the body, thanks to taboos in our culture around such topics, including periods and menopause. I have also suffered an unexpected kind of ‘bloodorama’ from time to inconvenient time in the past six months, ever since a botched gynecological operation and some diffident, unhelpful medical advice. Hopefully all that  unwanted bodily fluid ejection is now almost over, with a second operation looming.

Stressing about the stress test

Prior to the buildup to this second operation, however, I had a big day out like no other. This was not my usual visit to the inner west, where I often meet cousin Joan for a nice chat over a treat at a cafe. Instead, I found myself at a radiology establishment, undergoing a 5-hour medical test scenario. This involved being injected and given radiation and nuclear medical treatment, as well as being strapped to a strange machine that put me in mind of an unusual mix of several sci-fi, pornographic and horror genre films – for instance, Gravity, Solaris and even Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, although maybe I am feverishly conflating this last one with my gynaecological nightmares.

The journey to this stress test, appropriately also known as a ‘torture test’ (according to Wikipedia) was slow, along a long, winding road. A reluctant participant, I had been avoiding having one for a considerable period of time. When, for instance, my former GP didn’t like the type and cost of a particular test that my cardiologist recommended at one part in the saga (it was still experimental and there was no Medicare rebate), I gratefully didn’t go ahead with it, waiting on the sidelines for them to work out a more viable and cheaper alternative, and not putting any pressure on either of them to pursue the ideal type for me – foolishly, of course, as, for all the procrastination time, I was still on the rat poison drug, Warfarin (now at least liberated from this, I am pleased to report).

Finally, with a wondrous, energetic new GP and a reactivated old cardiologist, I was booked in for a heart stress test also known as a myocardial infusion scan. I hasten to add here, upfront, that the exact medical terminology and my understanding of what was going on is a bit scrambled, and could at any time be laughable to an expert.

But, in a way, my layperson’s lack of understanding, and the lack of having been given clear guidelines regarding what was actually going to happen to me, reveal all too clearly that some specialists in particular are very poor communicators, no matter how expert they happen to be in their field. Some medicos must have undergone a kind of ’empathy bypass’ I fear, as seeing such medical challenges from the ignorant patient’s point of view doesn’t seem to occur to them.

In any case,  I tried to prepare properly for this test the day before, by fasting and abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, and so-called beta blockers (whatever they are).  I was, naturally enough, quite apprehensive and stressed by the upcoming stress test, my overwrought state not being helped at all by reading about it online – always a danger, though probably useful at one level. Online details included the following:

  • Stress echocardiogram: An echocardiogram (often called “echo”) is a graphic outline of the heart’s movement. A stress echo can accurately visualize the motion of the heart’s walls and pumping action when the heart is stressed; it may reveal a lack of blood flow that isn’t always apparent on other heart tests.
  • Nuclear stress test: This test helps to determine which parts of the heart are healthy and function normally and which are not. A small amount of radioactive substance is injected into the patient. Then the doctor uses a special camera to identify the rays emitted from the substance within the body; this produces clear pictures of the heart tissue on a monitor. These pictures are done both at rest and after exercise. Using this technique, areas of the heart that have a decreased blood supply can be detected.

Not the radiology waiting room


                                                 Not the radiology waiting room

Acting in my own scifi /horror/porn movie – Sandra Bullock, eat your heart out

I firstly had to change the soundtrack to the early test in an intimidating scifi capsule, where I was tightly bound up like an astronaut about to head off into outer space – although sadly there was no sign of George Clooney. I realized at that point that the requested Radio National program was recounting a detailed tragic story about a dying child. They changed that hastily to ABC classic FM, which was much more soothing. I was asked brightly if I suffered at all from claustrophobia. I said ‘no’ in a rather strangled voice, as already I was feeling the strain of the leather straps holding my arms firmly above my head, and also feeling quite apprehensive about the encircling capsule. For some unknown reason, I had to do this test 4 times rather than twice – usually once for most people at the beginning of the day and once at the end – as somehow the injected drug didn’t take properly within my system. A torture-ama indeed.

The cheery doctor who administered a particularly excuciating 15-minute segment of this ‘torture fest’, turned out to be attached to a notable Rugby Union team, and I received an account of his son’s Grade 8 dance, as well as details about various players’ broken bones from the previous weekend.   I replied lamely to his question about what code I followed – League, of course,  not Union, which seemed to surprise him. The inner west is of course a major stronghold for Union fans, and I must have seemed to be a stray from a different planet.

Prior to getting started on me, he warned that I may suffer a heart attack or a stroke during the treatment. Imminent death warnings are all part of the medical tests and operations scenario, and necessary I suppose. They may well cover the medical establishment from an insurance perspective, but they certainly don’t help reduce the patient’s anxiety level. Even being asked if you are allergic to anything is stressful in itself, as, unbeknownst to me, I may be allergic to some new nuclear drug I had never been given before until that day.

Some drugs…maybe allergic?

Some drugs…maybe allergic?

Of bras, belts, pain and the whole damned thing (ref. the ‘bra-fest’ photo at the top of this episode)

At the end  of the saga, I felt decidedly ‘off colour’, a rather quaint archaic expression that I blurted out to describe to the radiographer how I felt after 5 hours of injections and botched xrays, as well as during the excessive time being encased in the claustrophobic capsule, with my arms uncomfortably laid out flat behind my head, bound down all too firmly by the formidable leather straps. I made a poor attempt at humour at the end, saying that this was a not-at-all pleasurable bondage experience. The radiographer laughed politely – I think she had heard that one many times.


                                                                                  Some possibly benign leather belts…

I also could barely put my bra back on, given that my arms and shoulders ached so much. When asked, at the beginning of the day, if I could take off my bra from under my clothes, I expertly performed this feat, a  piece-of-cake ritual happily enacted usually on arrival home at the end of a long day.

        Aside: A friend tells a very funny story  (with actions) of her doing this in a plane on an uncomfortable long-haul journey to Italy, sitting squeezed up beside a Catholic priest. As she was settling down for the night, she told him to turn the other way and not look while she performed this very female task. He gave a start but quite cheerily obliged…

 The reverse at the end did not work out so well for me. Firstly I became strangely aware that it is well nigh impossible to put a bra on under other clothing, a bizarre fact that hadn’t consciously occurred to me before – I must have been in some kind of delirium at this point to even consider it. Just taking off my sweater revealed to me how shaky I was and how sore my arms were, after all the heavy-duty injections and the overdose of  leather bondage I had endured. For many days afterwards,  my bruised injected hand still throbbed. And as for my dignity – well you have to leave that at the door with your undergarments during any test-orama.


Some random thoughts are teeming around in my brain vying for ascendancy in this current blog. I have been very focused lately on topics such as Rugby League Football and Rock Concerts (episodes six and five respectively). However, there is nothing quite so all-consuming raising its head and begging to be focused on this month…so I hope you will enjoy this ‘flotsam and jetsam’ webisode.

Firstly, I want to pay tribute to my maternal Grandmother Mary Browne, born Mary Wright (1872 -1951). In 1890, she married Arthur Browne when she was only 18 years old, and they had eleven daughters. My mother Margaret was the youngest girl in the family. I was very small when my Grandma died, but I still remember with great fondness her white lace collars, her talcum powder smell and her comforting arms around me.


                                                        Mary Browne (nee Wright) in a very jaunty hat

As a fitting follow-up to the little tribute to my beloved Grandmother, I am attempting to complete the bulk of this blog on Mother’s Day, in the midst of heading out to perform a ritual celebration with a close friend, the glorious Lisette and her beautiful daughter Liliana. Both being motherless, Lisette and I started this ritual in New York in 1997, when we were hanging out in a trendy sidewalk café in SoHo, and people seemed to think I was her Mom/Mum, as it was actually Mother’s Day in that country. One person who sat down to chat warmly with this ‘mother and daughter team’ when he heard our accents, was the renowned Australian artist David Rankin, married to the famous author Lily Brett. We laughed at this mistake (I had to grit my somewhat ageing teeth a bit), but since then Lisette and I have met for little treats on Mother’s Day to keep the New York myth alive. Given that Liliana is now on the scene, I guess that I must now be a token grandmother myself!


        At the Woolloongabba Antiques Fair cafe for the New York ritual Mother’s Day catchup

Weathering the weather..a woman of all seasons

I recently visited the Blue Mountains and Sydney and, while I had a lovely time partying and seeing old and new friends, visiting art galleries, restaurants, pubs etc., a recurrent weather phenomenon raised its seemingly inevitable head. At both places, suddenly everyone was saying words to the effect that: ‘if only you had come here yesterday/last week, the weather was so lovely and mild  – but today and from now on while you are here, it will be very chilly indeed’. Thanks to the unexpected temperature drop, my hands nearly froze and I developed an unshakeable headcold.


                                                                   The beautiful but freezing Blue Mountains

I do have a form of recurrent weather paranoia, a condition which began quite memorably in New York City the first time I visited in the early 80s. Juanita and I (later joined by Suzette and Pierre) hit the ground running and then stumbled and slipped on the icy footpaths in our wrong Aussie shoes and inadequate Aussie winter clothing. As I recall it,  December 1980, the tragic month of John Lennon’s murder, was deemed to be the coldest Christmas in 108 years. Juanita thinks it was the coldest in 40 years, but whatever it was, a record low was announced, and the windchill factor was blisteringly unlike anything we had ever experienced before in our subtropical lives. We would struggle into many layers, then hit the streets, and almost immediately find a café or bar for refuge from the relentless wind and sleet.


                                                         Weathering NYC December 1980

The terrible weather in New York worked in our favour at least once that holiday, as, on Christmas Eve, we were able to get last-minute returns for rare tickets to the sensational sold-out Broadway play The Elephant Man starring David Bowie. The weather was too bad for out-of-towners to make it to the theatre, and we benefitted greatly, enraptured by Bowie’s magnificent performance  in the title role. The only downside of the night was that everyone disappeared immediately we got outside the theatre, and we tried for ages to get a cab back to the Lower East Side. We tried to wave down many cabs that simply went past us empty – the drivers scurrying home to the folks for Xmas Eve. Finally someone took pity on these underdressed shivering people hanging on for dear life to a lamp-post to stop being knocked over by the wind. The cab driver asked us where we wanted to go, finally agreeing to take us because his wife was Australian, even though he had finished for the night. Thank heavens he was still on good terms with his wife.

The reason we didn’t venture into the subway home that evening was that we had been strictly warned by a New York friend not to go there at all unless accompanied by a member of the vigilante group the Guardian Angels, whose sole mission at that time was to protect innocent people from increasing violence in the subways (the day we arrived in New York the headlines read: Three murdered in midtown subway bloodbath). There was no Guardian Angel visible that night, except in the form of the reluctant off-duty taxi driver who decided finally that he could take Australians back downtown.


                                                          Memories: the magnificent Chrysler Building, NYC.

Fortitude Valley and cloudy shenanigans

From December 1980 onwards, I have noted the pattern of my arrival in places, only to be subjected almost immediately to climate change in the form of record summer highs or winter lows. While I have tried hard not to personalize this phenomenon, in my darker, more fanciful moments, I sometimes feel that this may have something to do with the fact that I am the daughter of Arthur, a legendary weather oracle, aka a meteorologist. In a fit of gloomy weathernoia, I wonder occasionally that he might be up there somewhere on a cumulonimbus cloud, giving me a dose of weather payback for something naughty I did in my youth – e.g. Dad always warned me against going to Brisbane’s then very seedy district Fortitude Valley (being a shiftworker at Brisbane airport, he often drove through the Valley in the early morning, witnessing much flotsam and jetsam action). However, of course, his dire warnings made me want to go there and check it out as soon as was humanly possible.


                                      Fortitude Valley today – Wickham Street still has its seedy side

My defiance knows no bounds, it would seem, as I now reside very close to that forbidden zone, the Valley, in a street deemed, rather quaintly, to be Brisbane’s Most Livable Street, 1993. Of course, as this was the very year I came to live in this street, I feel that I somehow intangibly helped raise the livability level of the street, having left the sleepy suburbs behind.


From this: on the backsteps in Rainworth…image

     To this: High Livability near Fortitude Valley

Some friends and members of my family were rather astonished by my moving here, especially when a murder occurred down the road in a Sydney Street apartment the very weekend I moved into the area. Furthermore, prostitutes and drugdealers were then ever-present up the road on the corners of Harcourt and Brunswick and /or Kent and Brunswick Streets.


                                         One transaction hub in New Farm/the Valley

I argued with such people who were mystified at my move, that I wanted to live in an innercity area of Brisbane, close to eateries and cinemas etc, where something was actually happening, unlike the leafy sleepy suburb of Rainworth where I had resided for years.

Partying like there’s no tomorrow…


                    Den and me –  greeting party guests in the Millwood Street abode in the mid-Eighties

For me at least, the most exciting thing that happened in beige-ish suburban Rainworth post-divorce, seemed to be the fairly colourful parties and soirees held in Millwood Street, when the Thirties wooden house would move precariously on its stumps as we danced all night, with fluid relationships forming, unforming and reforming in unexpected modes and scandalous mutations that have since merged into urban mythology. I once had a memorable, jam-packed New Year’s Eve party that was the very one that a large slice of Brisbane’s glittering literati, glam academia (not an oxymoron), and the usual flotsam and jetsam decided would be the best party to descend on for the actual midnight celebrations. No need for social media in those days.

While being the ‘Numero Uno’ New-Year’s-Eve party thrower certainly enhanced my celebrity status in some quarters, I was pretty annoyed when I discovered the next day that my crystal glasses had all been smashed and that my favourite (authentic) Polish Solidarity poster had been nicked. I also found someone’s underpants inexplicably in the freezer the next day…

At that New Year’s Eve party – or was it another one? – I recall amidst the haze that there was a flotsam guy there, a good-looking rightwinger (also sadly not an oxymoron), who said that being with me was like being in a Woody Allen movie. He meant this to annoy me, I think, as he certainly didn’t like my politics, but I embraced it as a compliment…



      The noble fridge in the Rainworth kitchen, witness to many hair-raising events

Get your red dress on…

It may seem to some that the ‘most liveable Brisbane street’ parties have lost some of the ‘oomph’ of the sprawling, meandering, uncontollable Rainworth gigs…although, empirically, such nostalgia-tinged judgment has to be suspended when post-1993 partying memories come flooding back – e.g. gorgeous Missy dancing in the wee hours, until and even after her clothes fell on the floor; a feisty couple pursuing cigarettes having some hilarious misadventures; someone concocting an excuse to hurriedly remove their flirtatious semi-dressed partner when that person got out of control…etc., etc. I will never say that my ageing correlates with a more sedate social life, as this is patently untrue in any case.


       A Dorothy red dress for magical Liliana…definitely a swirling party  frock in the best tradition