Endings, beginnings …

A few months ago, I was driving to see a client, and as I always do when I’m on the Inner City Bypass, I quickly looked to my left where the Royal Children’s Hospital is. Or I should say, was. When I’d finished my shift, I drove back to the Royal, parked my car and got as close as I could to the site. I cried big, ugly tears, and had to take some deep breaths to ground myself. I took some photos and spoke to one of the traffic guys about my time in there.

Going back was not about burying my suffering. It was about bearing witness to the destruction of what had been my second home. That might sound hyperbolic, but it’s where I did half my growing up. It’s hard for people to grasp that I spent nearly half my life in hospital before I had my transplant. It’s about being there, grounding myself in the suffering that is still with me – the suffering that will always be a part of me, and when it comes to that suffering I’m not broken or stronger for it. I just am.

I don’t live in the past. I AM my past. It’s like that saying, ‘you don’t have a soul. You have a body. You are a soul.’ 

Just when you think you’ve released all the guilt, there’s a dark corner of me that feels I need to be there to pay penance for having survived when most of my friends did not. Sound stupid? Try living it.

This place is sacred ground for me and so many others. There were so many first and final moments on that land. I fell in love for the first time there and I never believed the time would come when such a place was torn apart piece by piece. The state government made that decision years ago when Anna Bligh decided to entertain her vanity project of a children’s hospital in South Brisbane because Brisbane had a perfectly good hospital and infrastructure at Herston because: politics. I can see the new children’s hospital from the place I’ve left (it’s revolting, just in case you were wondering), and I remember the uproar in the medical fraternity when the idea was initially tabled, both with doctors and patients.

Back in the 90s, I was in hospital for much of the construction of the ‘new’ hospital (the one that’s been demolished), and I also happened to be an inpatient when the Deen Brothers demolished the old hospital. If you live in Brisbane, you’ll know that the Deen Brothers were the go to guys who knocked down iconic landmarks such as Cloudland and the Bellevue Hotel under our despotic Joh Bjeilke-Peterson dictatorship. Under Joh, they demolished much of Brisbane’s beautiful heritage buildings from the 1970s and beyond, often under the cloak of darkness and surprise.

And so the Deen Brothers were given the job to demo the old red brick hospital buildings in 1993, and I was a fierce sixteen year old who took shit from no one so it was nothing for me to jimmy open a window so I could yell at the Deen Brothers ‘you heretic c*nts!’. I’d shout until I was literally blue, my face covered in the dust of my past, present and future. I’d do this as many times as I could during the day when I wasn’t studying or having treatment. I would rage and cry, and punch the glass separating me from so many years of pain and suffering. I would wait until they met my eye (because they would) and I’d rage and cry, and give them the finger. They must have thought I was a mad little girl, but they  were just doing a job. Maybe I was doing mine, and the job of so many souls who had gone before me in those buildings.

The one image that brought me to my knees was when the kitchen being ripped out – the timber splitting like kindling, and the terrazzo floors being smashed. I wanted to throw myself on the ruins of that building and die with it. I was sixteen and I was in a constant state of grief. Heavy, sodden grief.

I’ve often said that I don’t live with regrets, and that I live with lessons instead. But I do have one regret. I wish I’d got some bolt cutters to break into the old Adelaide Billing ward before it was levelled. I feel that regret in my marrow, and I have a recurring dream where I can’t get into the ward. But there’s another dream happening where I’m right there, seeing myself not being able to get into the ward. Sometimes I get in without the bolt cutters. The double doors open up slowly, and I can feel the cool, polished terrazzo under my feet.

I still have nightmares about its old lift that shake me awake, and leave me unable to get back to sleep. They’re cyclical, and after a watched the hospital being torn down, I had more recurrent dreams about trying to get into the old Adelaide Billing doors.

But with every ending, there’s always a beginning. The day before Christmas, I moved into my new house, and I’m beyond besotted. I can see the stars every night, there are trees as far as the eye can see, the birds sing to me every morning, and I think I have an owl after finding a feather from a Powerful Owl, which is curious because I asked for an owl to look over me at the beginning of the year. Sometimes life is funny like that.

And so, I’ll cast my attention to this new beginning with fairy dens, banana palms, owls, native hibiscus and old, thickly rooted jasmine. And yes, my new place has terrazzo floors …

9 thoughts on “Endings, beginnings …

  1. Hi Carly, despite not being a patient there, I also feel that pain. So many memories happy and sad. So many beautiful kids who became part of my everyday life. I have a clear memory of telling the kids in the CF room in AB, that I was pregnant. The next night on night duty I had a beautiful note from a few of the girls, congratulating me and also thanking me for caring for them through the night. It still makes me cry.
    I became engaged, married, a mother and divorced there, it was my second home and the people there sustained me in good times and bad.
    I sat with so many children as they took their last breaths, held them and their families during what was the worst day of their lives.
    I also remember watching from the “new” ward, Robertson as they ripped Adelaide Billing apart, it broke my heart, I still often dream I am working there. ( Weird after so many years.)
    Moving to the new hospital 3 years ago felt like a betrayal and it will never be in my heart like the RCH. I only hope that the new breed of nurses can feel the same way about it as the old guard felt about “the Kid’s”.
    Thank you for your recollections, it is beautiful and a testament to your life and your writing.

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    1. Ah, your comment has me in tears. I always used to wonder how it affected you guys, and I still think about that to this very day. I remember you becoming a mum and a wife. We really did have some fun times there, but I feel that they will always be inextricably linked to all the bad shit we saw, and there was plenty of that. I find it fascinating – but not surprising – that you still dream about AB, and I can only imagine how traumatic it was moving to a new hospital. The Old Guard is like a halo of white light around me, and I can always feel them (CF’ers and nurses) with me. As I wrote at the beginning, I’ve often thought about the impact all of the death had on my beautiful nurses. You were so present with us, and were always there for a hug or a chat, although there was often a silent understanding between us and you guys. I know you got it because you lived through it too, when so many people on the ‘outside’ didn’t or couldn’t grasp what we were going through. Thank you for being my nurse all those years ago. I’m beyond grateful that I met all the brilliant people I did. Much love to you XOXO

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  2. Dearest Carly, you are so much more than this. You are a WITNESS to so many lives and I know that each of them was grateful for that. Your kindness, generosity, compassion and your vast experience are a gift that spills over even to another side of the globe. If there were a sophisticated enough sensor, it would detect poweruful vibes of your healing energy and love long after the last of the rubble is cleared and it will light the way for the future. XOXO

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