Category: Study

When you get punched in the face

A couple of years after my transplant, I was assaulted. Had the shit beaten out of me. What made it even more shameful, was that I was beaten up by a girl. Of course this rationale has evolved with the gradual unfurling of my life and hard won wisdom, so I know that it doesn’t matter who hits you. Girl, boy, woman, man – it’s violence and it should never be tolerated.

So here’s some back story: I had been at a Cystic Fibrosis luncheon (as was tradition) and I admit that I was intoxicated during the day, but stopped drinking early afternoon. Around dusk, my friends and I hopped on a ferry from Southbank to go to a friends place at New Farm. I was feeling clear headed and had been drinking water for quite a few hours.

When we arrived, there were quite a few people we didn’t know, so we sat around in a circle (old hippie habits die hard), and I got to talking to a guy about where we had been. He seemed friendly – long red dreads, not quite a hippie, but more of what we would call a ‘feral’ (terrible term, I know, but it was a term nonetheless). I explained that I had CF, to which he responded, ‘you look really well,’ so I told him that I had had a transplant and he commented that I probably had some wicked scars.

We engaged for about twenty minutes, but things started to get a little strange and off topic, so I excused myself and walked away. This man’s wife who I thought looked really friendly, for she too had long dreads and was wearing Doc Martens which transported me back to my youth – had seen us talking, and as she turned towards me, a storm rose in her face and she asked me what I was looking at. I replied, ‘absolutely nothing’, picked up some grated cheese that was on a table with some other snacks, and threw it behind me as I walked away. I wasn’t aiming for her, but it was her perception that I was.

The next thing I remember, she was on me and I was up against an old car; punching me in the chest and ribs, and then grabbing my head and smashing it into the car window. My first thought was to protect my face – I was wearing glasses after all. Then a horrific thought crossed my mind – that my head was going to be smashed through the glass (old glass that shatters, NOT safety glass that sticks together), so I just took it.

She smashed my head into the window so hard that my glasses flew off, she lifted me up against the car so that I lost my shoes, and my friends were behind her screaming to leave me be. The thing is, she was Amazonian when I am not, and she just kept the blows coming. Her husband eventually dragged her off, but she was trying kick me in the face. I copped a boot to the chest which took the wind out of me, and I stumbled away while they got in their car and took off. Then they came back. After about fifteen minutes (we were still waiting for a taxi at this point to go to the police station), I saw her get out of the car, light a cigarette and walk back to the party as though nothing had happened. She was so oddly blissed out and mellow, and my educated guess was that she had had a hit of heroin or something similar which had calmed her down.

I don’t fight dirty. Never have, never will. When I was going in high school, my Dad taught me how to box; how to protect myself even though (or because of) I was going to an all girls school. And so that night, I didn’t fight back. I went into protection mode. If I threw some grated cheese behind me that she mistook for deliberate hostility, making her believe it was ok to beat me up, then that’s on her.

My dear friend M (who happened to be a lawyer at the time) and I went to Police Headquarters and I wrote down a preliminary statement. My memory was pretty fresh, but I was in shock, so the statement was brought up in court as being ‘contradictory’ to my official statement that I made about later that week.

When I got home, my Mum took photographs of the bloodied scratches and bruises across my chest and neck. Even more concerning was that I had had a central line removed just two days before and she had scratched the scab off it and drawn blood with her fingernails. Later that night, I struggled to sleep because the attack kept playing like movie reel in my head – a punch here, a kick there.

When I tried to get out of bed the next day, my whole body ached like I had a really bad flu, so I called the transplant unit and they said to come in straight away – I needed to be checked out, x-rayed and have bloods taken. I could barely move and because this girl was possibly a drug addict, I had to be tested for HIV and Hepatitis because as I mentioned earlier, she had scratched the scab off my CV line and drawn blood. I had fourteen x-rays, was checked out by a physiotherapist and then I went home to rest.

It felt like an age waiting for my blood results to come back, and I admit that I was feeling pretty distressed. When they came back clear, my doctor, family and I were relieved to say the least.

The worst thing about the whole situation was that the woman who assaulted me was in the care industry. She was an occupational therapist at a major metropolitan hospital and  she knew that I had had a transplant and therefore was a ‘soft’ and vulnerable target. My transplant consultant wanted her struck off immediately, but somehow that didn’t transpire.

Court was brutal and unforgiving. I felt so terribly guilty that my friends had to testify, but I was determined that this person was to be accountable for her actions. Her husband arrived at court wearing no shoes and repeatedly walked up to the courtroom to listen to proceedings when he shouldn’t have. The lovely detective who took my official statement didn’t think this was right, so he was given a warning to stay away or go elsewhere.

When I had to get up on the stand, I had strips torn off me by her lawyer (I still remember his name), and he manipulated what had happened on the night, where I was a cheese-throwing bitch who provoked the attack. I know that’s what lawyers are supposed to do, but a few minutes into the cross-examination, I was a bawling mess. In fact, he was very capable at making me feel like shit, but I was lucky enough to have the states top DPP who representing me. I also had a wonderful and compassionate detective who actually gave a shit about what had happened. My lawyer made a very strong argument that she was a violent offender, and after an arduous day of court, Mum and I hopped on a train, but as we were nearing home, we were called back.

I had to get on the stand again, and to cut a long story short, the woman who assaulted me was found guilty of grievous bodily harm which meant that she had to pay me a reasonable sum of money and complete 200 hours of community service. What upset and disappointed me the most, was that there was no conviction recorded. In fact, I would have happily done away with the money in place of a conviction. The fact that this person was an occupational therapist working with vulnerable people and who possibly had a drug problem disturbed me greatly.

For the first few months after the attack, I was constantly checking my back, especially when I was at uni. I didn’t feel safe and that really grated me. It lowered my self-confidence and even though I was already hyper-aware of my surroundings after being with my Mum when two piss poor excuses of men who mugged her tried to run her over in a carpark when I was fourteen, I became a little paranoid for a few months and was always at the ready to fight. My nerves were shot, and even someone running behind me was enough to set me off and put me into fight or flight mode – mostly fight mode where my  fists would curl instinctively until the perceived threat had passed.

Looking back, I was so incredibly naive to think that these people were good people. I’ve always looked for the positive in everyone I meet, and while it was a hard lesson to learn, I refused to let my assault dictate who I engaged with, and soon I was feeling more positive about interacting with humans I did not know – I was just a little more selective.

The entire process, from the assault to the court case, exhausted me and my only real escape was studying for my creating writing degree, which ripped me back to my youth where study was my escape from all of the death and suffering that was all around me on an almost daily basis when I was in hospital. Friends deteriorating before my eyes, friends dying, trying to help said dying friends die a more comfortable death, seeing kids pinned down so doctors could shove in an IV or a nasal-gastric tube for feeding. The word brutal  comes to mind again.

I rarely think about my assault, but something a couple of days ago triggered a surge of memories, and I wanted to write about (and share) what happened. Violence is never the answer, and instead of being embarrassed about not fighting back, I’m proud that I protected myself as best I could and that I walked away with grace and my dignity intact.

You may ask why I didn’t just let it go and not report it to the police. I was always going to report it to police because I  was raised to believe that everyone needs to be responsible and accountable for their actions. I found out a few years later that her marriage ended. Did that make me feel good? Temporarily, yes. Now? Not so much. Did I want something awful to happen to her after she assaulted me? Yes. But then I learned that when you dig a grave for one person, you need to dig another for yourself, and that held no appeal for me. Do I hope that she’s now ok? After my own addiction issues, yes. More than ever. I forgave her a long ago, but I will never forget the physical, emotional and spiritual pain she put me through. Spiritual pain? Well, that’s another blog post entirely …

 

 

Who’s got the confetti?!

As I’ve rattled on in previous posts, I found my calling a number of years ago, and that that calling is Palliative Care (sometimes called ‘end of life’ care). My life has been characterised by death and dying (with a lot of very happy living in between), and I’ve helped lead the way for friends and family who have died, where I’ve played a role both directly in their presence, as well as in spirit.

I started my tenure as a death ‘midwife’* when I was very young – far too young – but I’ve long yearned to serve in palliative care. The only that had been standing in my way was the distinct lack of education/teaching resources that hadn’t been available in a non-nursing graduate setting.

As it stands, there are now quite a few programs across Australia in palliative care education at a tertiary level, and I’ve been patient in hoping that one day, I’d be able to learn about my passion so I can actually practice it.

Yesterday, I received an offer from La Trobe University in Melbourne for their Graduate Certificate in Health promoting Palliative Care. I screamed, cried, ran around, did a handstand, and proceeded to call my parents and some close friends.**

I’m so proud of myself for a few reasons. It wasn’t a normal university application process. I had to write a personal statement as to why I believed I would be suited to the course. I also needed to find someone who would write a solid support letter. My application letter just got longer and longer, and thanks to my proofreaders (you know who you are), I wrote an outstanding letter. For some support ‘material’, I asked my spiritual mentor Tenzin Chodron from Karuna Hospice to explain to La Trobe why I’d be suited to the program, at which she wrote an edifying and heartfelt letter. I believe Chodron got me through.

Putting yourself out there isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but with some amazing friends and peers telling me to go for it, gave me the courage to apply. I’m the happiest I’ve been in recent memory, as I wasn’t sure whether I would be offered a place because of my lack of a medical background. But as it turns out, La Trobe’s Palliative Care studies program is  holistic, in that the course material lends itself to the spiritual side of end of life care, as well as the practicalities of what palliative care involves.

And so, a new journey begins, and I couldn’t be more excited. Stand up for your dreams, people! Allow yourself to be supported and GO FOR IT!

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* my name for a PC practitioner 🙂

** screamed some more.

The turning of tides

I can feel the ground beneath my feet opening up to greet me; as though it is ready for me to step in and entangle me with its roots.

I am a very different woman than who I was the last time I was out here in central Queensland. Five years ago I was broken from a damaging relationship. After my spirit been chipped away, there was only one place I could think of that could even remotely begin to heal me, and that was my dear friend Meagan’s parents cattle station out in central Queensland. I needed to get out of the city and out of my head, because there’s only so much introspection you can do. And I didn’t want to talk. To anyone. My problem, my issue, my silence, my choice.

So this is what I did next – I hopped on a train and made my way out west. I was still mired in shock that the cancer surgery I’d had the previous November had come so close to claiming my life, I was afraid of life and death, and I was writing a book about the death of a child in a car crash. Reading coroners reports and interviewing first responders as well as the family of the child wasn’t conducive to healing, but I needed something to keep my head above the waterline that kept lapping at my throat until it reached my nostrils. I managed to keep the water from lapping at my neck.

I needed to heal from the outside in.

This year has been one of great change, both personally and professionally. I’ve ended friendships that no longer served me and focused on my ‘real’ friendships. I took an indefinite hiatus from social media – namely Facebook, and by doing that, it came to light who my true friends are. I surmised that if someone wants to be in my life, they’ll make the effort, just as I make the effort to be in theirs.

Life deviates. Our sails adjust. We change course.

Had someone told me last year that I’d be studying human services, I would have questioned their state of mind, but in order to pursue my dream of studying palliative care at Flinders University in Adelaide, I’m preparing by studying a graduate certificate in human services – effectively ensconced in the field of community services, specifically health.

Life deviates. Our sails adjust. We change course.

You think you have your life in order. I thought I had my career as a writer carved into the skin of an elephant, but everything changed when I discovered Karuna – a hospice for the dying. I knew I’d found my purpose. It’s a slow process, and over the past few of years, I’ve completed levels one and two of ‘Spiritual Care with the Dying’ through Karuna and next  there’s an intensive family volunteer program I want to do so I can finally start working with the dying and their families. I liken it to being a death midwife. It’s just as important to die a good death as it is to live a good life.

Karuna was a life-altering experience. As I walked into the grounds, I came home. I had found my place in the world and my passion – palliative care. I walked into Karuna’s beautiful homestead a very frightened woman. Ever since I’d missed death by a hairs breadth in 2007, I had never been more afraid of death and dying. But I left Karuna feeling liberated, empowered and fearless.

The plan? I don’t know yet. My passion for palliative care has of late, taken a sharp turn into the welfare of Indigenous people and the gaping chasm of palliative care in rural areas, but again …

Life deviates. Our sails adjust. We change course.

In February, I did a Vipassana – a ten-day silent meditation ‘retreat’. It was one of the most trying things I’ve ever done spiritually, but I left Dhamma Rasmi liberated from my past and far more mindful of the present. I walked out of there a free woman.

I acknowledge that I am at the beginning of this journey. I acknowledge that I am a novice when it comes to medical palliative care. I’ve been accumulating and reading an ever-growing stack of material about the massive chasm in Indigenous palliative care, and I’m well aware that I’m very much at the beginning of what I know will be a life changing journey.

You calculate the risks in your head and your heart, and this makes you a passion hunter. FIND your deeper purpose. Deviate your life, adjust your sails and change course. Close the door on things and people who don’t serve or support your passions, hopes and desires, but be mindful to practice kindness and compassion. If I had to choose a religion, I would choose kindness and compassion. Kindness is my religion. I’m blessed to know where my passions lie and how to go about chasing them and bringing them to the forefront of my life.

My relationship with my family – especially my sister – has evolved to a level where we are closer than ever. My sister and I support both our individual and shared passions; encouraging each other to jump, or in her case – sprint – out of our comfort zones and just go for it. I couldn’t be more proud of her and what she has achieved throughout this year. She’s deviated her life, adjusted her sails and changed course. We both have.

I’m now in a place where my writing plays a far different role in my life. I will always write. Words are like cordite in my blood. That nitroglycerin and cellulose-nitrate never stops steaming; it’s just that novels don’t seem to be as important as my studies and the direction they’re taking me.

Deviate your life. Adjust your sails. Change course. Dig your feet in. Be fearless and claim your passion.

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Plan F

I’m a full-time healthcare provider. To myself. People assume that you’re cured after transplant, and that you go on your merry way with your phenomenal donor lungs and you live forever and ever with just the odd complication, sail through life, find a partner, have a lovely courtship, get engaged, get married in between a fabulous career and shit and maybe even have a baby and yeehaw, THIS IS YOUR LIFE. YAY!

But stuff happens. Unglamorous stuff like bowel obstructions, cancer that will keep returning, anaemia, addiction, diabetes, painful infusions for osteoporosis, rejection, migraines, lung infections, chronic sinus, life threatening blood clots, and that one time when your adrenal system fails you and you literally drop dead at your friends funeral where your Mum has to resuscitate you. Talk about stealing someone’s thunder, but apparently I ‘died’ very elegantly and without much fuss. Side note: Thanks Mum and the White Ladies who diverted traffic so I could be ferried across a main road to a medical centre.

And so last week, I started uni. You would think two courses would be simple enough, even if I’ve missed out on the first three weeks of lectures and tutorials because my enrolment was all very eleventh hour*.

After I’d slept all day Monday and all night, I woke up exhausted yesterday, unable to get out of bed. I tried to convince myself that I was ok, to the point of saying out loud, ‘I’m fine. Really, I am. It’s just the general anaesthetic that’s making me feel yuck. I AM NOT GETTING A CHEST INFECTION.’ I repeated this until I started getting breathless, which was about third canon in. I felt like I was coming down with the flu, had a productive cough; I was having hot and cold sweats and my resting pulse rate was 100.

My gem of a Dad rushed me off to hospital and dropped me off with my overnight bag – the same overnight bag I gave a stern lecture to on Saturday morning after I went home the following day after my sinus surgery, in that I didn’t want to see it again for the foreseeable future, unless it was for a dirty weekend or for my trip out bush later this month.

I sat on my bed and did something I rarely do. I cried. It’s not that I’m a hard human being. In fact, the most benign things make me cry. Music mostly. It is easily the most affecting art form, but crying makes me feel torpid and vulnerable. I want to push myself away from myself, but I can’t because I’m so present in my body. Crying also gives me a roaring headache and I end up wondering what I was even crying about, because everything that I should have cried over (but didn’t) bleeds into what I’m feeling, and I cry like a kid who’s had his Tonka truck taken away.

But back to yesterday. I underwent my usual tests after which I saw a doctor I’ve known for a couple of years. We’re not ‘close’, and while I don’t know him particularly well, he’s an excellent doctor. He took my blood pressure, looked at my tattoo and said, ‘that looks fresh.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s nearly five years old. It probably looks so good because I don’t go out in the sun and I slather myself in sunscreen. I’ve got really good genes too. Apart from the C.F ones, I mean. You should see my Mum. She looks amazing for her age.’

He raised his eyebrows and nodded. I’d rambled too much, and so cleared my throat, closed my mouth and darted my eyes southward to the benign hospital carpet. I either say too much, or too little. There seems to be no middle ground. For example, I’m currently crushing on someone who doesn’t know it (or maybe he does – who knows, but if you do, speak up, because I can’t!) who I’ve only ever managed a smile or a ‘thank you’, or a really loud ‘hi!’ or ‘great!’, or ‘can you please put my coffee down for me, I have the shakes because of the drugs’ with. Oh yeah – ‘I have the shakes because of the drugs?’ FFS, Carly.

So back to yesterday … My blood pressure was uncharacteristically low. So call me underwhelmed.**

Five years. What have I achieved in five years? Some small stuff. Nothing major. Except for surviving. I haven’t finished my research Masters or my novel, simply because ‘stuff’ gets in the way. Some obstacles are too big to go over, so I have to go around and that takes time. I’ll not forget when a friend said to me that I always seem to ‘take the long way round’. We were 19, and I said calmly that I’ve had some stops along the way. We’re do’t really see each other anymore. Life has deviated for both of us and there’s really not a lot we can talk about. I’m also a big believer in that just because you have a history with someone, you don’t need to maintain the friendship for friendships sake.

So when ‘stuff’ happens (read: when I become unwell. I’ll rarely say I’m sick – ‘sick’ is reserved for when I’m on life support), I make other plans. Because I always have a Plan B, C, D and E. Sometimes, I even have Plan F for FUCK ME, UNIVERSE – ARE YOU SERIOUS? But I always get through it. Whether I’ve had my chest cracked and opened up like a clam for transplant or my vagina ripped to shreds first through topical chemotherapy and then peeled off like the skin of a grape when surgery was my only option, I get through it. Even with a poo bag, I managed. I’m not saying I managed it well. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. But I managed.

The last five years have been about survival and just that. I’ve learned so much – about myself, about the world I find myself in and about other people, in both stop the clock beautiful ways and in less lovely ways. People can be … fucked. There I said it. People can be fucked. I like to think that for every misguided human being, there are three earth angels who are all managing their best. And that’s why I want to help look after people. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do – to be a light in the dark for someone when their light is fading.

We’re all just managing. I am just surviving. Every day is a new beginning. We’ve got this, people so let’s slather on sunscreen, pull on our boots and look fabulous while we’re doing it (thanks again, Mum).

* Currently checking to see if I can study just the one course this semester and an intensive in summer semester.

** which won’t last very long. I’m guessing I’ll be hypertensive tonight when I watch Patrick’s funeral on Offspring. And Nina gives birth #ohsweetbabycheesesicannotibelievethisishappeningandirealiseitsonlyatvshowbutFUCKIneedsomeEddieVedderrightnow

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The dream starts here

I have a passion for life and death, and death and dying – specifically, palliative care, oft times referred to as ‘end of life’ care. For many years I’ve wanted to be a palliative care worker, and in 2010 I began my ‘Karuna Journey’. As I walked through the doors of Karuna, I could feel myself smiling. I felt like I was home, and that this is what I wanted to do with my life – to look after the dying, or as we say in palliative care, to help people ‘die a good death.’ After all, it is life’s only other true certainty (taxes are not). Through Karuna I studied two levels of ‘Spiritual Care with the Dying’ with Tenzin Chodron, an earth angel and Tibetan Buddhist nun who works at Karuna, giving clients and their families the spiritual support they both seek and often crave as they come to the end of their lives.

The last two weeks have been a cyclone of questions and answers. I’ve been in contact with the lovely people from the Flinders University post-graduate Palliative Care program, because I wanted to do the Graduate Certificate in Palliative Care they offer. The only problem is that I lack the appropriate health degree (I’m sure as hell *never* doing nursing, and I bow down to all nurses) and practice lead experience, so with their guidance, kindness and a couple of suggestions, I’ve enrolled to do a Graduate Certificate in Human Services through Griffith University which will essentially be my segue into the course I so desperately want to do through Flinders.

By the skin of my teeth, thanks to an agile email eye and persistence, I begin studying next week gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh which means that I’m going to be a student again. This excites and terrifies me in equal measures. The course is part-time and will take me a year to complete, and in March there is a volunteer intensive training course run by Karuna. I applied to do this intensive this year, but for some strange reason – and I’ll put this down to the universe working in fucked up mysterious ways for the greater good – my application went M.I.A.  I had been waiting ever so patiently (nearly ten years – I still have the original bright yellow brochure from Karuna), and of all the things to have happen, knowing I’d slipped through the cracks left me feeling crushed and unsure about my future. It was something I had wanted to do for so long, and I thought ‘Yes. This is it. I’m actually doing this!’, but it was not to be.

I can deal with 99% of ‘difficult’ situations by dusting myself off and pulling my boots back on, but this had me howling for a good couple of days. Worse than any heartbreak, I would have to wait another year – a year I may not have due to the nature of my dis-ease. I didn’t have time to wait, and coupled with the fact that I had a suspected heart issue and a raging chest infection, I was one very sad girl. But still, I polished my boots, pulled them back on, and had ultimate faith that the universe would provide – I just had to be open to it.

And so here I am on the eve of becoming a student again. The dreaming stops and the real and tangible begins.There’s the faint taste of ink and paper on my tongue.

Tonight I tilt my head towards the sky; the moon slung high in its splendour. My tea bursts with vanilla as it wakes my tired mouth and warms my belly; City and Colour is on an endless loop, and I’m happily walled in by anthills of books: Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, Susan Sontag, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Patti Smith – my journey women who so boldly cut a swathe through what they recognised as the binds of their lives with the ultimate enterprise and courage in a world so fuelled – and consequentially flawed – by fear. In its place there was blind faith, impudence, fabulous spelling and grammar and an absence of fear.

Life makes me happy, as does death. Both as ambrosial as the other.

Below: YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!

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