The story starts with nightmares. I was about ten years old and I had two nights of truly horrible nightmares. Almost fifty years later I can still remember them vividly. In the first one, my big sister had accepted some money to kill me. In reality she probably would have done it for nothing. I had gone to bed, and for some reason a countdown had been triggered. She was up watching TV with my parents. In my nightmare haze I got out of bed and walked into the lounge room and there she was, the countdown continued to tick away and I knew, with absolute certainty that when it got to zero, she was going to kill me. Nothing could be done about it. It was horrible, terrifying and tragic.
In the second nightmare, I was deeply engrossed in the 2nd World War and the Japanese had mined my bedroom floor with dozens of tiny, barely visible round spiky explosive charges. If I got out of bed and stepped on the floor, I was going to be blown up along with all of my family. So with my fingers in the picture rail I was hanging from the wall, inching my way around the room from my top bunk, on my way to the door and some help. I must have been making some noise because eventually my father scraped me off the wall and put me back to bed. My fingers were badly scraped and bruised.
The next morning I was unwell, a doctor was called and I was rushed to hospital with acute appendicitis. The neighbours thought the ambulance was pretty exciting. I was missing tennis so I wasn’t that thrilled about it. I was taken to Manly hospital and had my appendix removed. There was no room in the recently completed children’s wing of the hospital so I was put in a corridor ward with 6 or seven old blokes. One of them was a fella called Steamroller Jack. He had been run over by his own steamroller and had been in the ward so long they had created a song for him they sang whenever he went in for another operation, poor bugger. I can still hum the tune.
I was not happy in the hospital and though I was to stay just four or five days, the pain in my side was getting worse. The kindly nurses put my crying down to me missing my mother. Bless them. It was probably on the second night on the ward, my stomach erupted. Through the stitched wound bits of me spilled forth in an ungodly mess. It all happened so quickly that all they could do was pull a few curtains around the bed and move the bed next to me away. They were operating on me again. There was a team of people, doctors and nurses all doing things that hurt. It was shit. My parents were called.
It was the one and only time I ever saw my father in his pyjamas. I had peritonitis a fairly serious infection in the wound and people who knew more about it than I did, were not happy. My folks had been phoned, it was late at night and they were told to rush, don’t bother changing, just get to the Hospital. So though I am guilty of gilding the Lilly I reckon I must have been pretty sick.
I have a very firm memory of my parents standing about ten feet away, I could see them over the top of people armed with surgical equipment and needles, and they were in very serious conversation. I remember thinking my father looked angry at my mum. With the benefit of hindsight of course, they were just worried and he would have been trying to be pragmatic.
The next morning I was moved to the children’s ward for a week or so which was really lovely compared to the humorless hallway of the mens ward. The rather memorable down side of my stay in the children ward was the needles I got four times a day in the butt. If I really thought about it I could probably remember the names of the other kids around me. Compared to them I was in tip-top health.
Eventually my mother packed me into the car and drove me three hours north to Newcastle to live with my grandmother for a few weeks. I have no real understanding of why I was packed off to Newcastle, perhaps it was because I couldn’t have got up to my usual bed on the top bunk, who knows. It was a delightful time with them though. My wonderfully gruff Grandad, a perpetually suntanned plumber who pretended to not have much time for children was so sweet to me. One night he gave me my first wallet, and old hand-me-down of his. The soft leather was beaten up but felt so beautiful in my hands. He left $5 in it and when I tried to give the cash back to him he just laughed at me.
My grandmother Ivy, (a name that is on the comeback) was amazing. I can’t imagine I would have been an easy house guest. She cooked me separate meals and completely spoilt me. I can’t say that I learned anything from the experience other than I have real anxiety about nightmares and needles.