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Heart Matters
Written by Cedar Rivers   



On this tenth anniversary of the tragedies of 11 September 2001 it seems appropriate to share some of my recent observations of August 2011 when I had occasion to spend two weeks in coronary care in hospital. Throughout that period I experienced much that will remain with me for all time. Even though the medical staff were usually rushed, the food almost inedible, and being in a ward with three others - usually two men and one woman, and having more than my fair share of challenges, I found myself giving constant thanks. Great gratitude that if I had to be ill it was best to be ill under the health care system in Australia than possibly anywhere else on Earth. Certainly better than in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Burma.


On one occasion after eight days of being tethered to the bed by various devices, I removed them all - to the great dismay of the nurse in charge - assuring her that I would take full responsibility for my wellbeing and that I craved some reprieve from all the illness around me, and that I wanted to go in search of food that was more to my liking, and to simply sit in a garden and breathe fresh air.


I cautiously wandered around the hospital - more like a small city really  - and came upon a restaurant and bought a fresh salad and fruit juice and sat to savour it. Three people sat at the table next to me - a woman more than twice my size, her husband and their tiny child who was perhaps two or three years old. The woman was hungrily stuffing herself with greasy food when her child, unable to maneuvour the long straw in her soft drink accidentally tipped it over and onto the floor. The mother reached across the table and slapped her daughter furiously again and again and in a loud strine and stringent voice called her stupid and careless and how she can never take her anywhere and how she must apologise to the cleaner when he comes as she stomped off to find the man with the mop. While she was away finding him, the father took over berating the child for being so silly and so clumsy. By now the little girl was now a tiny shivering mass of innocence and fear.


To intervene or not? My experience long ago taught me that the victim is often threatened to 'get more of that when you get home' - so I caught the little girl's eye and gently smiled and silently sent her comfort. Meanwhile the mother had returned with the 'man with the mop' and insisted that the little one apologise to him for making such a dreadful mess all over the place and for her being so very naughty so the child said sorry in an almost inaudible voice and was told to repeat it and louder this time.


By now I had thoroughly lost my appetite for food so I left the scene and made my way back to the ward, greeted the staff, got into bed and hooked myself up to the heart monitor again. Two of the patients were sleeping and I smiled at the man in the bed diagonally opposite. As usual he was surrounded by his loving wife and seven children who brought him specially prepared food and drink each day. He had joined us two days ago and I had delighted in watching how his family arrived the minute visiting hours permitted in the morning and stayed with him until they were asked to leave at night. I learned that this beautiful family of nine were Afghani refugees recently arrived in Australia. Throughout the day the older children interpreted complex medical information for doctors and nurses while the toddlers played quietly - always contained in their quadrant of the room. I watched as the man's tiny son climbed up onto the bed and onto his father's chest and cuddled him closely. I smiled at him and said - 'That will heal your heart.'


The Afghani Toddlers' Balloon


Meanwhile the mother had blown up a medical rubber glove turning it into a balloon for the two youngest to play with and in their excited play had tipped over a glass containing some water onto the floor. The father witnessing this accident quietly whispered woowoooowooooowooooowooooo to the mother who took the cue and found some paper towelling and quietly mopped the water from the floor. The children continued playing happily.


I asked my doctor whether emotional pain could break one's heart. He assured me no and that in my case it had to do with frayed electrics due to ageing. I know otherwise.


Cedar Rivers

11 September 2011




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