Public Property

Winter 2011 #5

To date most of my respiratory issues have been solved through the agency of a party hire shop.   True!  My $3000 breathing machine is supplied and serviced by the same cheery gentleman who, on the other side of a brick wall, flogs funny masks, paper streamers, party favours and helium balloons.  Lungs – – balloons – – the connection is obvious.
I guess. 

I don’t know that my enterprising, balloon-blowing respiratory technician from the bush belongs down here in the big city hospital, especially not in the rarefied atmosphere of the thoracic ward.  But – and this is the real surprise – the same paradigm seems to apply:  a single skin of brick often divides hilarity from hurt, merriment from misery, laughter from lament, glee from gloom.

Take the thin brick wall that divides an absurdly spall space passing for an accessible bathroom in our ward.  Some funny things happen in there! Yesterday a nurse accidentally dropped my clean, nicely folded socks straight into the rubbish bin.  You really don’t want to contemplate the contents of such a receptacle in such a place. But she dove straight in after them, and simultaneously we both said exactly the same thing, she with words and I with a gesture:  “3 second rule!”  How disgusting.  How funny!

My height, it would seem, is another source of great mirth for the staff.  Throughout my adult life I have been followed by a whispering wave.  In the general public I hear it as an appreciative, even awe-struck murmur: “…Gosh he’s tall!…” In the school yards where I once worked it was somewhat cruder and less enamoured; but either way it has been my permanent companion for many years.  In my new sit-down world this has all changed of course, to be replaced, curiously enough, by a different chorus altogether, most commonly provided by grey haired biddies on busses crooning: “… Oooh my, look how he can spin that thing around, isn’t it maaarvellous…”   (I do wish they would get it right: “…Look how he can spin that Bugger around…”). 

My height is a secret these days, startlingly revealed only when I stand; unwinding from 4 foot 6 right up to 6 foot 7 inches!  Nurses find this hilarious, especially as I have to slightly duck to get through the said bathroom door.  You might think I am exaggerating, but I assure you, I am not.  I have long known that extra height is the single physical trait that is somehow public property.  Anyone can, and will, ask how tall I am.  It is a daily experience for me, and people don’t hesitate for a moment to add their funny little jokes as well. Overwhelmingly popular is the inane, “your mum should have put a brick on your head”  (If I had a brick right now I’d….).  Can you imagine saying to a stranger, with feigned shock, “Crikey! How much do you weigh?”  or “My word, you’re a little short-stack aren’t you!”  Let alone laughing at the shape of someone’s head or the hook of their nose. 

I suspect these moments in the ward are cathartic.  Welcome flashes of comic relief from the serious, life and death business with which we are all engaged.  From room to room, just a brick wall away, people’s lives are being saved and lost.  There is drama everywhere; celebration and grief are inches apart. 

In hospital our lives are on display to one another in physical and emotional detail that is governed by a new code of modesty, one with very different boundaries.  From the moment of your admission you become public property.  You surrender so much to so many.  In this charged atmosphere life takes on an enhanced clarity, both the glee and the gloom are crisp. I find myself laughing at the antics all around; laughing with staff, laughing at myself; and then crying, quite literally, as I recite (or re-type!) my medical history one more time for one more therapist or one more doctor.  Crying too in waves of apprehension as I wonder: will they believe me?  O will they consign my problems once again to the too-easy bin of unexplained psychological hogwash. 

In a way I like the season of being ‘public property’.  I will be glad when it’s over, when I can return to the privacy of Paradise with my Favourite Wife and my family.  But I can’t deny enjoying the honesty that is demanded here, the bracing truths that have to be faced, and the opportunity to live in the gaze of others that being ‘public property’ affords. These things are anathema in the insular individualism of our modern world, but I think we are more deeply tied to each other than we care to admit.  In merriment as much as in misery, we are together.  To borrow a Christian phrase, “and every one members one of another”.  *



* Romans 12:5

2 thoughts on “Public Property

  1. sharon l crump

    Roderick…laughing and crying with you….hope you get some solid facts about your breathing. Praying for this!

  2. norma chalmers

    Rod..My view is that you are penning a wonderful legacy that will be enjoyed by your family and those still to come !

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