Monday, 18 February 2013

More tales of good luck...

...thank goodness I can laugh at myself!

Remember that time I went to Africa? I do. I resolved when I was five years old that I would go one day and not take my dad. I must've seen a doco or travel show about safari because my dad was going to London for work and had a week at the end before he needed to come home. He asked my considered opinion on where I would go in the world if I had the same opportunity. I thought about it for a second and very thoughtfully replied "oh Daddy, if I could go anywhere in the world I would go to Afffffffrica and go on safari." Apparently that's how adorable five year olds talk. That afternoon he booked himself a trip to Zimbabwe and you know what, he didn't book one for me! That's probably where my strong resolve started.

Some 17 years later, when I had finished uni and didn't know what to do with my life, I finally went there for a few months. All was going well: I could set up a tent like the best of them and identify plants and wildlife. In the main, that means I can tell a leopard from a cheetah. Oh, and it turns out every mosquito in Africa would rather bight me than anyone else, which makes me a great travelling companion. So I ended up with a whole bunch of bites around my ankles, and some started to get icky. I covered myself with antiseptic and tried not to scratch (I failed) but hanging around the campsites of Africa for a few months is only so hygienic. My feet were never really clean on account of the fact that I lived in thongs, trampled through mud, and showered in the same thongs only to trample out through the same mud. Somehow I was the only one to pick up a very nasty virus that, wouldn't you know, eats your flesh.

Necrotising fasciitis. Look it up, it's a good'un! It'll tear that skin right off! I was quietly confident it was just an infection that would heal up of its own accord but thankfully Manya and Corinne (two lovely Dutch nurses I had met in Zambia) convinced me otherwise after my leg began to take on the colour and shape of a Christmas ham and I was throwing my guts up. Probably I should've realised something was wrong at the point our truck nearly tipped over and I'd rather stay inside and risk it than get out and walk. I did get out, stumbled along a bit lopsided, and the truck didn't tip over so I cursed myself and got back in then promptly fell asleep. We crossed the border from Malawi to Tanzania and went straight to hospital where I thought the doctors would pat me on the head, give me some antibiotics and say "on your way, good little white girl." They put me in the surgical ward instead.

By this time I had begun to realise that perhaps my predicament was more serious than I had originally thought. This was around the time the word "amputation" had been thrown around a couple of times and I had collapsed in a state of exhaustion. I was desperate for some painkillers and some rest (turns out the former had to be injected in my butt) and apparently one of the nurses felt the same and had a little snooze in my room. Didn't give me a whole lot of faith in the Tanzanian healthcare system. Then again, in my head I was staying in a bamboo teepee like you'd see on MASH and it really wasn't that bad. Well, the doctor did try to marry me and they accused me of trying to run away after I asked I could go out and buy some clean clothes (having anticipated I would only be there for a few hours, I was quite unprepared for a week-long stay) so all in all it wasn't much fun. Oh and try asking for a vegetarian meal! It seems chicken and rice was all that was going. Suppose you can't be too picky though.

In the end my insurance covered it all and my leg didn't have to get chopped off. I didn't marry Dr Ringo and I didn't run away, and I ate around the chicken. I got in trouble for asking for water to take my pills (having been repeatedly told to keep my fluids up without drinking tap water) and I was covered in bruises and collapsed veins from so many injections. And it was only afterwards that I spoke to my parents for the second time in about four months to let them know where I was and that I was still alive. I borrowed Mutiso's phone to text them then got a call back a few hours later.

"Where are you and what have you done?"
"Oh I'm fine, just discharging from hospital in Dar es Salaam."
"We've just been to the movies. And where the bloody hell is that!?"
"Largest city in Tanzania, duh."
"Well... what's wrong?"
"Just a bout of flesh-eating disease, but it's fine now. Ten fingers, ten toes, all more or less in tact. Just thought I'd let you know."
"Well... good! I'll make a doctor's appointment for you when you get back. Don't want you contracting some other disease from all the needles."
"I hadn't thought of that..."

Turns out I got hepatitis from the needles, yaaaay. But I kept my leg and got a good story out of it, so it seemed a fair trade. I'm either the luckiest person in the world or the unluckiest. Actually, that's probably the other Erin. We bungee jumped at the same place (bridge over Victoria Falls) and the chord broke on her, not me.

Dodged death once more! You'll never get me!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

In memory of...

...the best person ever.

You know, I often consider myself a pretty unlucky person. Mainly because I am. For example, my headphones just broke. There was that time I broke a whole bunch of bones. The multiple car crashes. The time a pigeon flew into my face. However, in spite of all this, some things have made up for it. I mean, the best person in the world has been a big part of my life. And statistically, that's pretty unlikely. So let's reminisce.

Her name was G. Or it was Mabel, but she didn't like that much, and I can't really blame her. I'm glad it's not my name. I probably don't deserve it anyway. And now, golly, I'm quite stumped for words. Where do you begin describing 91 years of cool? 91 years is a really long time. Being only 26, I can't quite get my head around that many years. How can I? It's not part of my frame of reference. But G is, and we were pretty tight, so let's go with some memories.

She had the mouth of a sailor. She liked the cricket. She made the best plum pudding, and she took great care of you when you were sick. She was gentle and kind and she knew how to fish, and she made the most wonderful vegetable soup. She had a nickname for everyone (wonder where I get it from?) and was good with animals, had a rhyme to remember everything, and the only time she ever said anything bad about someone, it was about Shane Warne. And he pretty much deserved it.

One day she and I were having lunch and she was telling me about this family she used to spend the holidays with when she was young. They had a big house by the bay, but then the husband lost it all to gambling. G told me she would've shot him if she could afford the gun. I said "Really? I would've chopped off his doodle" to which she replied "Yeah, then he couldn't pee or fuck!"

I don't think I've ever laughed quite so loud.

But I think the best one is far more innocent. One of her biggest fears was outliving her siblings. There was G, Cliff, Bob and Margaret, and Cliff and Bob shuffled off in their own time. Aunty Margaret was and still is a bit crotchety (what a wonderful word) and a couple of years ago moved back to Adelaide in ill-health to live with her daughter Cathy. My mum and dad and I took G to see her one last time and were worried how the old bat would take it. I've never had a sister but can imagine that it's much like having a brother, only better, and I have two of those. So it would be pretty upsetting saying goodbye for the last time. Tub and Frau (mum and dad) and I were bracing ourselves for a tear or two as we walked G in to see Margaret, who was dressed in her finest hospital gown. But then it took 15 minutes of conversation for G to realise she was talking to her sister! Ha! It was only when Margaret said something particularly grumpy that G said "Oh now I know who you are!" and we all laughed and breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn't the heartbreaking farewell we thought it would be. Maybe you had to be there, but it was pretty good.

G taught me to tie my shoelaces. She used to plait my hair. She gave the best hugs. She told a good joke. And I'm gonna miss her forever. She really was the best person ever.

Mabel Ruth Pelquest: 1 May 1921 - 7 Feb 2013

Simply the best.