Monthly Archives: February 2010
This weekend just gone was Tim’s sister’s wedding. And I’ll be honest – actually, that’s not even hard at all right now, apparently yet another side effect of life after the accident – the only thing that was creeping closer than the day itself was my dread of it. Not because I don’t adore Cat, or her amazing partner David, or even that I don’t like weddings. Because I do. In the words of Eloise, I love, love, LOVE them! (All of the above).
No, no, the reason for my rising reluctance is probably entirely obvious – namely that given the complete chaos of the past month, uprooting the family – indeed, just packing the BAGS required – for a trip down to Northern NSW (again, the fact it is one of my favourite places on this good earth yet I was still filled with fear speaks volumes about my very un-me state of being) just seemed like…well, too much.
So fixated was I, upon just getting through the sheer effort of the logistics of getting us all down there, that I neglected to pay attention to one pretty damn amazing thing: that going to this incredible event could be just what the doctor ordered.
Oh my goodness. It was spectacular, emotional, delightful. And notably (and I’d like to point out right away that I do note the irony of the following revelation, given that this blog is very much a self-centred outpouring these days)…it was NOT ABOUT ME.
There was no (well, okay, relatively little) talk about car accidents, injuries, trauma, heart conditions, stress attacks, hospitalisation, medical jargon, depression or medication. Instead, it was all about the wonderful wonder of wonders: celebrating LIFE and LOVE.
I would love to post some photos on here when I get a chance. With the theme “flamboyant”, it was certainly one of the most colourful events I’ve seen since Woodford. Amazing. Feathers, top hats and spectacular dresses. And oh how healing it was. To toast. To smile. To laugh.
And to remember just how blessed we truly are to have each other. Friends. Family. People.
It was as the dance floor was being carved up that I had a massive life-changing moment (I know, I’ve already filled my quota for the year, but apparently it’s addictive). The DJ was completely killing me with his unparalleled taste in tunes to boogie on down to, yet, for the first time in my entire life, I was unable to dance my little heart out at will. It wasn’t a choice, like a self-conscious “Oh, no, I can’t,” but simply the way things were. At first I decided to opt for the next best thing and sit by the dance floor to watch. But, like being backstage watching the performers strutting their stuff in the spotlight, I just couldn’t bear it. I had to be part of it.
I got up and joined the party. And proceeded to do the only thing I really could: stand relatively still and do an arms only version of the Robot. For forty minutes straight. By God it hurt. And by God it was awesome.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, from this arose my lightbulb moment and said lightbulb moment was this: when my body is able, when I am ready, when I am healed or at least well on my way, I…drumroll please…I AM GOING TO DANCE.
I am going to dance every single day for the rest of my life. I am going to put music on, perhaps before breakfast, perhaps after, perhaps once the kids are asleep, perhaps before, but know this, there will be music and there will be shaking of booties. I will take classes. I don’t even care what genre, but I am going to dance because I love it – it brings me immense joy and I never, ever even realised how much until Saturday night when for the first time in my entire life, it was on too high a shelf for me to reach.
I’m gonna dance. Not for the fame or fortune, but simply for the FAB.
But for now, I shall just enjoy the memories of what was an incredible and, as it turns out, much-needed weekend of awesomeness.
And now…it’s back to getting through today.
It’s Valentine’s Day.
We’ve never really been huge on V-day, not through some self righteous sense of railing against commercialism or anything even remotely cool like that, but rather just because for us, February and March is already jam-packed with celebrations. Birthdays: Tim’s Mum, my Mum, my own, Tim’s sister, Tim’s brother, Tim’s own, not to mention the anniversaries of both our first kiss (March 14: at the Pearl Jam concert of 1998 no less) and our wedding. In short, we’re already overloaded with reasons to celebrate without adding the fuss of February 14 to the list.
But today, we’re gonna do it.
Admittedly, it will be in a hospital bed – and with Tim’s heart fright meaning that he’s completely sworn to leave hospital a changed man, determined to “become the healthiest person you’ve ever seen, just you wait!” it will be resolutely chocolate-free – and in a ward with three elderly women suffering varying levels of dimentia, but damn it if I’m not going to move heaven and earth to find some way to make that setting romantic.
The good news is – and this is cutting a ridiculously long few days very short indeed – that the cardiologist seems reasonably confident that there is no evidence of an actual heart attack at this point. Which is awesome. Though they have yet to rule heart problems out altogether (we’re awaiting more tests on Monday, after which, assuming all goes to plan, he will hopefully be given the all-clear and sent home), it is looking better each day. As in, he seems better. Calmer. Alive.
That first day of the phonecall, in my crazy strategy to stay calm in the midst of my panic (which basically comprised keeping my hands as occupied with activity as humanly possible) I grabbed a book to take to him in the hospital. I didn’t even look at the title, all I saw was that it was a chess book; it was only later that we realised the spookiness of the title given the circumstances: “Playing the Endgame”. The next day, again, not even paying attention to the name, but simply choosing a book by his favourite author, I brought in the much more reassuring one: “Finally Alive.”
It was only much later, once the worst of the storm had truly passed, that we were able to look at that and laugh.
Tim says that there were two points in this whole, entire, crazy affair where he honestly thought “this is it.”
The first was in the car. There he was, a third of the way through his daily commute to work, when it hit him: a paralysing tightness in his chest that quite literally knocked the wind out of him. His arms tingled, his breath shortened, and that terrible, terrible pressure pushing, pushing, pushing into his heart.
The second was in the ambulance. His heart pounding like it was about to leap out of his chest and onto the stretcher itself, Tim was terrified. I know. Because I felt the exact same thing – while not physically, but certainly emotionally – only three short weeks ago. To emerge alive from such a confrontation is certainly a victory, but like most battles, does not mean you come out the other side the same. Of course we all know that we will die one day. Intellectually, we know that. So why is it such a shock when you are actually confronted with a moment in time where you realise that this really could be that day?
Because, my heavens, it is. A shock. One BIG, LOUD, HORRIBLE SHOCK.
Some moments I find my mind drifting to what it will be like when Tim comes home. With both of us nursing our injuries – physical and psychological – will we lean on each other like two wounded soldiers and emerge closer for it, or will our combined forces just spiral us out of control like a tornado of trauma? It is then that I have to stop myself. I cannot think about the future. I can’t even think about tomorrow. Again, again, I am reminded of the one lesson I am clinging onto in the midst of all this insanity.
One day at a time.
In fact, at times this has become “One hour at a time.” “One meal at a time.” “One nap at a time.”
To twist matters more, I find myself eyeing off the doors of the emergency department at this particular hospital with a sense of almost time-travel: these are the exact doors, this is the exact building, that is the exact emergency department which – some twenty-five years ago – my own mother was brought into on the last day I ever saw her.
But that is a whole other story.
Man oh man, I do hope that what they say about things happening in threes really is an old wives’ tale, otherwise I will be finding myself permanently adopting the ‘brace’ position.
Thursday morning. Eleven am. Cassidy has just awoken from his nap. I have finally achieved the unthinkable – admittedly that is at this point, ANYTHING – in the form of a completed article to submit to a magazine. I am just about to pop the kettle on for a congratulatory cup of chai when…
I pick up my phone. It’s Tim. Checking in on me. Sweet.
“Hey babe,” I say.
“Hey, I’m here, can you hear me?” I pace the house, trying to find better reception.
Another pause. I realise his breath is heavy. In fact, he seems to struggle to get words out, but when he finally does, they are simply the following: “So I’m okay…”
My heart stops.
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” another beat, “I’m in hospital.”
“WHAT? WHAT? What’s happened?”
“Uh, chest pains and a racing heart.”
“Oh my God, are you alright?”
“I think so. I have to go.”
“Wait, wait, which hospital? I’ll be there. I’ll get there. Just let me work this out and I’ll be there, okay?” (Note: I’m still not driving.)
With a few rushed details, he hangs up and I find myself doing the absolute cliché thing of standing there with mouth agape, just staring at the phone.
Is this some sort of cosmic joke? First the car acciden t and now this? WHAT?
I call my sister-in-law, who says she’ll be at my place in half an hour and then utters the calm words I need to hear “Let’s just get down there, see what’s happening and we’ll take it from there.” I hang up, pack a few things into a bag and proceed to watch the clock. Three minutes have passed. Shit.
I have to talk to somebody. I have to talk to somebody. I have to talk to somebody.
I call my sister Ang. “Should I come up? Because if you need me there I can totally come up.”
“I just don’t know, I have no idea what’s going on, I have no idea how serious it is, I don’t know anything, I’m just trying not to freak the hell out here, I don’t want to get you up here if it all turns out to be nothing but then if it is…oh gees Ang, I just cannot make any decisions right now…”
“Just relax,” she says. Yes, yes. Yes.
We hang up, then almost immediately she calls me back. “Jemma and I are coming up.”
I look at the clock. Still at least another twenty minutes before Mary gets here.
Do I have everything I need? Yes. Pack a few books for him. Good idea. Anything else? Take your phone charger. Check. Food for Cass? Got it.
I begin to fidget, pace and then proceed to the logical next step of tidying up the house like a woman possessed. As I do so a tirade of thoughts flow.
Okay, what if you’re there for hours, what will you do with Cassidy? Don’t get ahead of yourself, Mary’s with you, Ang is coming up, they’ll help you figure it out. Oh my God, what if this is it? What were the last words I said to him? Did I tell him I love him this morning?
I quickly send him a text: “Just breathe babe. I love you. I’m coming.”
I keep cleaning.
What on earth will I do if he dies? How on earth would I do it? The kids? Stop it, stop it, you’re being ridiculous. You have no idea what’s happening. Just calm down, stop thinking about it and just get there.
One step at a time.
It’s around this point that my phone rings again.
It’s Tim’s parents. Do they know? How on earth could they know this quickly?
“Hi Jen,” says his Mum cheerfully, “we’re up the Coast looking at a unit today and have a meal to drop in to you, would now be a good time to do it?”
It’s then that I finally give complete voice to my total panic.
“Tim’s in the hospital, I just got the call, the ambulance took him there, they’re not sure what’s going on, I have no idea what’s happening, I’m sorry I’m so frazzled, thanks for the meal, I’m about to head to the hospital but I can just leave a key out or something if you like, the place is a complete mess, sorry about that, maybe I should just get there and then I can call you….”
We hang up. Mary arrives. We get to the hospital. She minds Cassidy in the waiting room while I go in to see my husband.
And at that moment, passing through the all-too-recently-familiar doors of an emergency department, something amazing happens.
My panic is overtaken by a sense of almost robotic calm; a calm which, as it turns out, will follow me throughout the ensuing days of cardiologist’s tests, monitoring, Tim being admitted for the weekend, and juggling children in the haze of my already-fresh trauma of the accident.
I suspect it’s a coping mechanism – like my body just cannot possibly process any more stress at this point, namely because it, like a well-worn credit card, is simply maxxed out.
The downside of this is that I know somewhere in there, is a tidal wave of emotion ready to hit at some future moment.
The upside: for the moment, and on reflection obviously that being the moment I actually need it the most, I am remarkably, almost ridiculously…CALM.
The posts below are just random musings from the past couple of weeks. I hope it all makes sense to you. Some of it doesn’t even compute with me, so if you continue on: kudos!
Just to update you, this has truly been the most insane time of my life. Last Thursday my husband Tim was hospitalised with chest pain. He was in hospital for 5 days. I will write more about this some other time, but in short: NUTS. NUTS. NUTS. Not his nuts, just the situation. Not his heart either, thank goodness! Though that’s certainly what it was looking like for a little while.
So here we are. Not even two months into the new year and both of us with life-confronting encounters behind us.
Details to follow, but for now, can I just throw my hands in the air, wave them around a little bit and make one big giant plea to 2010 to just calm the heck down?
That is all.
Even reading over these past couple of entries, I find myself nauseated just with how self-pitying I have become.
And in some ways, that’s been the hardest thing to get a grip on. How have I – who I like to consider a pretty damn positive person, to the point where at my university interview the panellist actually called me “Pollyanna” TO MY FACE – devolved into this uber negative whinger? Ugh. Today I’m actually feeling a lot better mentally, a lot worse physically. It’s two steps forward, one step back – all I need is Tina Turner’s “Nutbush” and I will be officially fulfilling my lifelong dream of living life as a musical.
The house is a freaking mess. Tim is trying to help out as best he can and I am grateful; but what it comes down to is this: calling his housekeeping and my housekeeping ‘clean’, is like calling Toowoomba and New York ‘cities’. Sure, there’s a commonality there, but that’s about where it ends. But I can’t get mad at him. I can’t. Because :
a) he really IS trying as best he can under really difficult circumstances and
b) I’m on Valium and thereby unflappable.
I just feel so stranded in a house that I start cleaning only to be halted within minutes and reminded of the fact that my body has changed. Agh. I know intellectually the easiest way to solve this is just to let go of my expectations – after all, isn’t that what this whole thing is teaching me anyway? – but taking that knowledge from my head to my…well, other part of my head, is just something else. Whenever I really start to panic about the state of things, I find myself – or at least, a voice in my head, hopefully of the healthy variety – saying these few words over and over:“It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay.” Then I remember to take a deep breath. I’m alive. My family’s alive. It’s all good.
I bit the bullet and checked my email on my phone today (we don’t have the net at home) so even though it costs a billion dollars per email, I just threw caution to the wind – see how reckless I am now? Oooh yeah, this life-changing event has made me bbbbbbbbad to the bone, baby – as I just had the need to feel connected. And I’m so glad I did.
Along with so many messages of support and encouragement, I got the most beautiful email from an old school friend who I haven’t been in touch with for years. I’m constantly amazed how in the face of hard times, (having been through and supported others through theirs), so often the people who lift you up, are the ones you least expect. I just want to post here what she wrote:
I am so impressed with you! I know we were not that close in school but since you have been on my facebook i have kind of been following you and what you are doing…..not in a stalker type fashion..obviously!!
For ages your stuff would just come up on my news reel thingy and i would read it and wonder what the hell you were on about with all the loose moose stuff etc..then one day i checked it out and thought that is so cool! couldnt help feeling a little bit envious of your motivation and ambition…..but you did always have that!
I have been on your web page several times since then and did see some stuff on facebook about your recent road “incident” so have just gone on and read your blog type thing….
a) am sorry you had to go through that but very happy to hear you are both ok
b) Just by looking at your web site and all the things you have achieved both personally and professionally you will NOT be stopped!!
c) Drugs could make for some interesting and cryptic comedy acts!
d) Writing is theraputic…..and you are very good at it.
So i just wanted to say that really. Rich tapestry of life…etc etc.
Hope you feel better soon and keep writing…..
That totally made my day. Seriously. It’s these little things that are making a huge difference to me right now. Thank you so much for taking the time out to write, Alex. xx
And on another note, if you haven’t read yet another old school friend’s comment about her own unexpected pre-festival show debacle, then please do here. You are such a sweetheart Sar, I cannot wait to hang and see each other’s shows and geek out about all things comedy whenever the stars align.
Love you guys. Thank you all for the encouragement. Here’s to brighter days and positivity rising. But also thank you for allowing me the grace to just let it all hang out. Whingeing, self-pity and all. xxx
Some days are up – I feel so positive, so alive, so happy that (especially considering the thoughts that were racing through my mind just post-crash and before results were in) I have basically a happy ending – while others I come crashing down to such a low that I sometimes find myself even wishing that on that evening I had died.
It’s a horrible thing self-pity. Because it’s partners in crime are loathing, hatred and even self-harm. I don’t mean physical harm (though those thoughts have passed in my mind as well) but more of the emotional type. Mental abuse. On yourself. And it’s a vicious cycle, because the more self-pity you feel, the more you go off at yourself for even feeling so self-pitying. After all, what right do I have to feel sorry for my state of affairs when there are people in Haiti who have lost everything? When there are people commemorating the anniversary of the worst bushfires in recorded Australian history? When there are people I know how have just recently lost their 7-year-old son unbelievably suddenly to too-late diagnosed leukaemia? What he hell is wrong with me? I have it all. I walked away. I have injuries, sure, but my son is just a little bruised, I can still watch him play, I will be here to watch him grow up. My career plans are completely in the shitter for the year, but really, in the grand scheme of things, does that even matter? Is comedy even important? Is any of this really important ? Is it?
And so it spirals into an attack on myself – what kind of person am I, what kind of horrible, self-obsessed, narcissistic and ungrateful whinger, to even dare lick my wounds when what I essentially have is a happy ending.
Because I do.
I’m still in pain, but my spinal cord is intact. My shoulders and my back hurt, my neck aches and I have constant pins and needles in my arms – and sometimes my legs – which at their worst feel like cramps. With the meds,I can deal with it, it’s now, almost three weeks on, that it’s finally bearable: sometimes I think the worst part of it is just the constantness of it all. It’s unrelenting. The tingling first appeared two days after the accident, but it was sporadic, with no discernable rhythm. It would come and go, and occasionally my left arm would go completely numb for about twenty minutes. Now I no longer have the complete numbing sensation but the pins and needles are more intense and in both arms 100% of the time. The doctor – after viewing my MRI results – thinks this is because my nerves have taken a very violent lashing in the jolt of the accident and that the symptoms could last even six months. Six months of constant pins and needles. Can I do that? It seems a small penance given that I get my son intact, my life continuing and so on. I can do it. I can.
I can finally start lifting Cassidy again. He has been so out of sorts since this whole thing began – going from waking perhaps once through the night to five or six times. The sleep deprivation is starting to get to me. I’m on Valium. I’ve cut right back on the initial dosage, only because it was beginning to make me feel like the walking dead, but hot damn if I don’t keep my temper now with all things child-related. Seriously. I’m not endorsing the stuff, but all I can say is I’m totally getting now why it was the drug of choice for the 50’s housewife.
They’ve also started me on anti-depressants. I don’t know if they’re working. The second day after I started I felt amazing – not physically, just mentally, as though the fog had lifted and I could finally see some sunshine streaming through – but the next day was a hard crash back to the ground. I just feel so helpless. I can’t perform: on the stage or at home. I can’t keep on top of anything house-related. I can’t properly look after the kids. I tried homeschooling for one morning and it took me a grand twenty minutes to realise that I just cannot do it. Thus, Ella and Caleb are now at our local primary school. The transition has been surprising – I would have thought Ella would have had the most dramas settling in as she can be a little shy in big groups, but she has taken to it like a duck to water, and it is Caleb (usually unbelievably social and quick to make friends in any place) who is struggling to adjust. I’m giving him the same encouragement I offer myself: just take it one day at a time.
Yesterday was my first day alone with Cassidy at home. It wasn’t as bad as I’d dreaded. Being able to at least focus my attention on him keeps him happy, though he’s still extremely clingy since the crash and I indulge him too much by lifting him up – I woke up this morning and my back felt much worse. I shouldn’t really be lifting him at all, but when he’s upset, he’s also cutting a tooth on the bottom gum just to throw everything in there in one big hit, and when I know he’s also gone through a huge trauma having to deal with me not being myself in the aftermath, I just can’t help but give in to him. I have to get better at this.
The saving grace in all of this of course, has been the amazing people around me who have held me up when I have fallen, and – well, without belting out a Bette Midler ballad – have and are making sure that I get through this and that I know I’m not alone. My sister has been unbelievable – as much as I know and have always known that she loves me, she really has gone above and beyond the call of duty, from driving me to umpteen doctors, hospitals and while doing so, making sure she takes the back route so I don’t have to revisit the scene of the accident itself before I’m really ready, to making phone calls and chasing up admin details (why the hell is there so much paperwork involved when shit hits the fan?) I can’t even begin to complete the list of things she’s done.
People I don’t even know have brought us meals. Friends of friends have emailed through advice on insurance, physios and other nuggets of their experience in navigating the beaurocratic nightmare. My sister-in-law Mary has driven me umpteen kilometres to drop kids to childcare, then stayed with me during darker days to keep my head above water. My brother James didn’t even blink before making the big mission down to Brisbane to pick me up and drive me back up the Coast, then took me out to their favourite café for iced coffee on a particularly tough morning. My darling mate Ash rocked up on day one post-accident with an entire meal prepared for the whole household with whom we were staying. Jem and Sam gave up their bedroom to us and made it clear not to stress about outstaying our welcome. Corinne came over, baked, washed and got house stuff sorted. Tamsin went and bought me loads of fruit to help fight off the effects of too much Codeine. Kath researched schools for the kids and got the ball rolling before I’d even given it a passing thought. I’ve received flowers, messages and words of support from people I would never have even expected. The kids stroke my back and hair with their gentle little hands to help me feel better. My hubby gives me hugs, words of encouragement, and puts up with what must be like living with J-Lo if she was a coked-up Hunchback. I could go on and on, but it’s getting a bit ridiculous. This is how supported I’ve felt: that I can describe it using a word like ‘ridiculous.’
All these people, and so many more, all putting their hands up to let me know I’m loved and most importantly: not alone.
Re: Melbourne Comedy Festival. I have run the full gammet of emotions on this one. My first post-accident conversation with Rachel, my Producer in Crime and mummy extraordinaire and just general all-round one of my favourite people in the universe, went something like this…
Rache: “So, um, is there any chance that you won’t be able to do the show?”
Jen: “Well…(big big pause)…oh God, Rache, I just can’t even bring myself to consider that right now.”
Jen: “I know I should, I just…to be honest, it’s the only thing keeping me hanging in there right now.”I
Rache: “Fair enough.”
By the next time we spoke, things had developed – I had been referred for a CT scan as the pins and needles hadn’t eased up, the results had showed abnormalities in two discs, thus I was referred for the MRI and suddenly the doctor was talking the possibility of surgery and needing referral to a neurosurgeon. To put things mildly, I was freaking out.
Jen: “I have no idea what’s happening.”
Rache: “It’s okay.”
Jen: “If I have to have surgery, then I don’t know. I have no idea of when or what the recovery is or anything. I just don’t know…”
Rache: “It’s okay.”
Little did I know at the time but Rache was already on the case, contacting the Comedy Fest to find out what the deal would be if I was forced to drop out. She very kindly rang my hubby to discuss the options, knowing that at that point it was just something I was not in a space to contemplate, let alone discuss the finer logistics of.
Then at some point in the ensuing days, it began to dawn on me that this wasn’t just a ‘recover in a week’ kinda thing. Maybe I’m a bit slow (blame the Valium: I do) but I guess after that first night, once I got the clear from the x-rays, I kinda had it in my mind that I’d be sore for a week or two, but then I’d bounce back and be my happy self again. It never really occurred to me that there could or would be longer-term implications. Add to this the fact that my mental state was rapidly spiralling downward
My Melbourne Comedy Festival show was the biggest event of this entire year for me. This would be the first time I’d performed my full-length show – the one I developed in Canada at the Baff Centre and launched in its newborn form at Calgary Fringe Festival at Loose Moose Theatre – in Australia, and I couldn’t wait to show it. 23 shows in three and a half weeks. Intense. But so exciting. To say I was anticipating this with the eagerness of a rabid dog about to eat something – rabidly – is a massive (and weirdly worded) understatement. But because of the sheer intensity of the undertaking – taking the whole family down with me for the whole time , no less – I knew I had to be at my absolute physical and mental peak to do it well. I’d been working out every day. I’d been rewriting the show weekly. I’d been working on my vocals. And together with Rachel, we’d been plugging away solidly at what we considered a very organised and well-put together promotional plan.
But at some point over that week where words like ‘abnormalities’, ‘disc bulges’ and ‘surgery’ were being thrown around like scattered dreams, my feelings mutated from being completely gutted even thinking about the prospect of cancelling the show, to being utterly nauseated at the thought of trying to go ahead with it.
I finally admitted it. It sucked. I cried.
But this was reality.
The show would not go on.
I thought 2010 was all about taking the big step in putting myself out there. I’ve spent the past couple of years getting myself ready for it, now is the time to go for it. Melbourne Comedy Festival was the big one I was focused on. Things were in motion. Things were happening. All was going according to plan. That is, until a little over two weeks ago.
Since that Thursday evening, things have turned so far off-track that a couple of days ago I finally made the decision to cancel the Comedy Festival Show – in essence, cancelling my comedy plans for the remainder of the year to instead focus on my recovery and the everything that has become ‘life after the accident.’ I won’t go into details right now on the actual symptoms, it’s far too boring and easy to devolve into woeful self-indulgent whinging, but suffice to say that things have changed. A lot.
So, seeing as 2010 has already offered me a massive and quite dramatic lesson in giving up expectations (ironic, given that my comedy festival show was all about the unexpected aspects of life, thereby giving me a very undeserved superiority complex in terms of understanding of these matters), I have resolved that there is only way to break my way out of this hell-hole of self-pity: and that is, to put pen to paper. Or finger to keyboard. Whatever. The point is, I am in dire need of a flotation device right now and I’ve realised that this is mine: to write, write, write.
Since the accident, I have had a million things going through my mind – I don’t know if this is because of the medications, or whether it’s just my brain trying to distract me from the discomfort in my body, or post-traumatic stress from the accident, or the fog of sleep deprivation from poor bubba boy being so unsettled at nights since the crash, or possibly just a combination of all of these, mixing together like the various combinations of meds they’ve had me on for the past two and a half weeks – but what it comes down to is this. I cannot, simply cannot write anything else until I firstly get the entire accident business out of my head and onto the page. It just has to happen. So here it is.
Thursday the 21st January was a great day. I’d just done my first of a six-day contract at the Gallery of Modern Art doing their kids tours, and they’d gone better than I’d hoped. I had arrived home to my sister Ang’s place (with whom were were staying for part of our Brissie stint) and was in a great mood. My husband was on his way home from picking up the older two kids from a holiday program, Ang and I had reconnected with a massive D&M while celebrating our very first outing with both of our babies in their respective prams, it was a beautiful evening. In essence, the calm before the storm.
On a whim – and ironically, for the first time EVER – I decided that tonight I would try to get Cass to sleep the easy way and take him for a little evening drive. And thus the nightmare began.
With him happily gurgling in his capsule, I made my way down to the end of my sister’s street. I was pretty sure he’d be out to it in about ten minutes. We approached the major intersection on Mains Road. The light was green. I was going straight ahead. It all seemed simple. Then life changed.
Both the paramedics and police asked me if I remembered the accident happening and I replied “yes” at the time, but when I look back on it now I honestly feel like I either blacked out or have blocked it out, because my memory is like this: one second I’m driving happily along, the next seconds are just a series of thoughts.
What’s that sound?
Why is the horn going off?
Why won’t it stop?
Oh my knee hurts.
I can smell smoke.
My tongue stings.
There’s a red car smashed into the front of my car.
Why won’t the horn stop?
There’s steam coming out of the engine.
There’s an airbag in front of me.
Oh my God I’m in a car crash.
Can I move?
How bad is this?
Oh God am I going to die?
Open the door.
Can I open the door?
What is that? What?
(The CD player suddenly kicks in. Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” will never quite feel the same methinks).
Get out of the car.
My back, my back, my back.
The other driver is standing there, should I say something?
He does not look good, is he okay?
Oh my God. CASSIDY.
Oh please, oh please, oh please.
What am I going to find?
Oh please, oh please.
Get round to his door.
Look in, you can see him.
That’s a good thing, that’s a good thing. He’s alive.
Get him out.
Pick him up.
It’s okay, it’s okay.
He’s settling down, that’s good, that’s a good sign.
Oh please God, please God.
He’s settling, he’s settling.
What do I do?
Help me. Help me. Help me.
At some point I realise I am actually saying those exact words out loud “Help me, help me, help me” and looking around for someone – anyone – to help. How exactly, I don’t know, but just to be with me. So I’m not standing here in the middle of this intersection with an old guy looking like he’s having a heart attack and both our cars smashed together with my back feeling like it’s permanently crooked and my baby in my arms.
I make eye contact with people in their cars, stopped, watching, looking, dazed, but nobody moving a muscle.
“Help me! Help me! Help me! Please!” But they just watch. Why will nobody help me?
After what feels like forever – this is the first of a number of fuzzy time sequences to follow in the coming weeks – a middle aged man comes running from a neighbouring house. “Are you okay? What can I do?”
I look at him, so grateful, but so confused. All I can say is “Please.” “Please, please, please…”
“Do you want me to take the baby?” he offers.
“No.” The pain of not holding my baby right now seems far worse than that of clinging on to him, I don’t want to let him go. Ever. “Please, please,” I say, “can you call somebody? The ambulance….?”
“My wife’s onto that love,” he says, pointing to a lady standing over on the corner with a phone to her ear. “Just come on over here.” He and a young Asian couple who have since appeared, help me off the street and onto the grass on the side of the road.
“Is there anybody you need us to call?”
“My husband. Please, I need to call my husband.” The young guy offers me his phone.
“What’s his number?” he says.
I panic. “I can’t remember his number. What is it?” I dial his number twelve times a day. Where is it? Why can’t I remember? What’s happened to my brain? Am I brain damaged? What does this mean?
“You’re in shock, love,” says the older man. “It’s okay, the ambulance is coming.”
I finally remember the number and we call. No answer. The young guy keeps trying but still no answer. “My sister just lives around the corner,” I say, “but I don’t know her number. It’s on my phone but my phone is in the car.”
“I’ll go get it,” says somebody.
“Oh my back hurts so much,” I say. Somebody tries to pat me, then stops realising I guess that they might hurt me: “I’m sorry to tell you this, but the pain will get worse.”
Then – something happens, which, while adding insult to injury at the time, in some ways does provide my brain with at least some temporary comic relief – a freaking GREENANT BITES ME ON THE BUTT.
Yes. Uh-huh. That’s right.
I try to stand up, my helpers trying to support me but at the same time trying to tell me to sit back down. Perhaps they think that in my post-shock state I am about to embark on some imprudent mission to prove my physical prowess.
“Don’t get up, you need to sit.”
“But it hurts.”
“I know, the ambulance are here now.”
“No, no, no, I want to move.”
“Just wait, love, they’re almost here.”
“I’m getting bitten.”
“Greenants are biting me and I want them to stop!!!”
“We’ll get you a chair.”
What happens next is chaos. At least, in my mind. In no particular order, the ambulance arrive, assess me, somebody finds my phone, I call my sister who comes running down with the pram only to be utterly shocked by the seriousness of things. This isn’t a prang, it’s a full head-on collision. Both cars are almost certainly written off, the other guy is lying down next to his car, there are police, ambos and fire dudes everywhere, traffic is to a halt, I am now a part of the reasons for road rage everywhere, no doubt one of ‘those incidents’ on the radio traffic reports.
As the lovely older wife of the couple helping me out offers again to hold the baby any time I need and I finally relent, a car behind her beeps the driver in front – at which point, said uber-lovely grandmother turns round and without beating an eyelid shouts out “HAVE SOME PATIENCE YOU BLOODY PRICK!” then continues unphased to coo and cuddle Cassidy.
Ang sees me just as the paramedics are locking me in a hard neck-brace, I don’t realise it yet but my eyes are fully bloodshot and I’m looking…well, you know, like one of the ugly step-sisters had Cinderella finally gone all loco on her ass. Ang starts crying. She tells me later that she thought by the phone call – as did Tim once I finally got through to him – that it was just a little fender bender. In my defence, when I told her on the phone that “I’m fine, Cassidy’s fine,” I wasn’t trying to downplay things, it was really just that by “fine” I meant “not dead.”
It takes two different paramedics to check Cassidy out and give him the thumbs up until I am satisfied and just calm the heck down. “Look at him,” says one, as my little dude clambers all over Angie, smiling and eyeing everything with the fascination of just any other sight to see in this amazing world, “there is no WAY he could possibly have a head injury.”
They cart me onto the stretcher and Ang tells me she’ll take Cass home, meet Tim and the kids there and then meet us at the hospital. She doesn’t want to leave me, but I am so much happier knowing that she is with Cass, the rest is details.
They do the stretcher thing. The cart into the ambulance thing. It’s bumpy.
“How would you rate your pain on a scale of one to ten?”
“With ten being childbirth?”
He laughs. “If you like.”
“Well, I’d say a four.”
He laughs again. “Well, childbirth is something I cannot even possibly imagine. So you’re saying you are in a lot of pain then?”
I pause. “Yes.”
He gives me a weird inhaler thing to take the edge off the pain, but I’m getting frustrated. I don’t know if the shock’s wearing off or whatever, but I’m starting to feel things more now. “If you really want to give it a kick we can give you some morphine.” I think about it. Morphine. Isn’t that what gave that lady all those trippy visions in “Soft Fruit”? How can I even remember the name of an abstract Aussie movie right now? I couldn’t even remember my own husband’s phone number?
I am disappointed. No hallucinations, nothing fun, it just makes me feel like my face has become contorted into a tight ugliness, like one of those old people making funny faces on black and white birthday cards. We finally get to the hospital, where I am immediately wheeled in.
The paramedics wait at my bedside for the doctor to be briefed and while they do so, proceed to have a very passionate yet whispered (evidently not quietly enough) moaning session about how they’d just been about to knock off work when they got called to this accident. As I’m lying there, neckbraced up, morphined up, stretchered up and no idea what the damage is actually gonna be, I can’t quite work out whether I should – or even can – respond to that. “Gee, so sorry to have interrupted your afternoon. Hope it didn’t, I don’t know, RUIN YOUR ENTIRE DAY!!!”
The doctor arrives. Tim and Ang arrive. What follows is a series of tests, x-rays (the only other time aside from being in the actual car that I seriously freak out about how bad this could be – I can’t stop thinking about a clip on PA hospital or one of those shows about a chick who stuffed a disc in her spine in a car accident and had to have it fused or something) and chit chat with my cheer squad, reliving the nightmare. It plays like a loop in my head. I can’t stop it.
The results are back quickly – no obvious breakages, which is awesome. A couple of my ribs are very sore and it hurts to breathe on my left side; the doctor says they couldn’t get a clear image of it but there’s no point bothering with it as even if it was broken it wouldn’t change the treatment.
“Considering the nature of the accident and ones I’ve seen similar, I’d say you are very, very lucky.”
He and the other doctor have a very impassioned discussion about the merits of airbags, then proceed to debate how to treat my seatbelt burn; I’ve seen it at a glance, Ang tells me later it was bleeding pretty badly and everybody keeps talking about it like a major concern but it honestly feels like nothing compared to the pain in my back. They dress the wound, give me some more meds and talk about me staying the night so they can monitor things and offer more pain relief if I need it.
Tim goes home to the kids and Ang comes with me into the new room: just as I’m settled in, a couple of curtained-off sections away we hear what can only be described as Shrek puking his guts out, coughing violently between every heave. This goes on for a solid two minutes. I look at Ang and say: “I don’t think I want to stay here after all.” We laugh and laugh and the laughter hurts just as much as I need it.
With a warning that whiplash symptoms often take a while to rear their ugly heads, I am discharged the next morning.
I remember at Woodford Folk Festival in the admin office, they had a sign up saying “Sometimes, when you think things are finished, they are really just beginning.” I smiled at it. I loved it. I thought I knew what it meant. And who knows, maybe I did.
But that morning, as I walked out of the hospital, it meant something different.