Legends from our own lunchtimes

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I told you I'd remember!

My mother once is again is incarcerated in Greenslopes Hospital, behaving herself apparently, and awaiting her first operation of the year. I don't want that to sound as though I'm less than apprehensive and I'd hate anyone to think I wasn't as concerned as I certainly am. It must be recorded that when one is well into one's eighties and develops gall stones on New Year's Day one could not be accused of starting the year off in a promising manner.

On the other hand, one's eldest son could be quite grateful that the very thought of her hospitalisation has cleared at least one blockage in one of the channels in his brain. The blockage that had him post a particular photograph a few weeks ago, with no recollection of the story that was to accompany it;

Many years ago, more than a decade if one wanted to become picky, my mother was hospitalised for a few days in an attempt to diagnose an illness which as far as we can make out remains anonymous to this day.

At the time my father was himself quite ill, suffering from a condition we used to refer to as ECKTM, an acronym for Every Condition Known To Man.

He was so frail for many of the latter years of his life that as it was finally coming to an end, something of a contest developed between his vital organs to see which could hold out longest. His diseased lungs were holding their own and the pacemaker was keeping his heart ticking over, but his kidneys and liver were starting to fade, his skin ruined by years of medication was barely concealing what lay below, his corneal transplants still in place, his teeth long since gone, and his body was gnarled and reshaped through the onslaught of arthritis and osteoporosis. It was typical of him, a child of the Great Depression, and with an ancestry that had some vaguely Scottish roots, that he'd use the last bit of everything, allowing nothing to go to waste.

On his death bed, had he been in a more lucid state he would have giggled with me I'm sure at that moment when we realised that although he'd wrung every bit of usefulness out of every molecule of his body, he remained perhaps somewhat ironically, a card-carrying organ donor .

Despite his general lack of well being, he was fiercely independent, so when my mother was hospitalised, he refused all offers of help as a matter of course . In that context then, I was rather surprised to receive a call one afternoon, with a request to pop past their house to give him a "hand" with something.

I spent a considerable part of the hour or so the commute consumed, wondering with a growing sense of gloom, at what sort of crisis awaited.

If he needed help so badly that he'd actually ask for it, I reasoned, it must have been out of absolute desperation.

And it was.

He held out his hands. The backs of his fingers had dozens of welts and bruises across them. Fine blue and purple lines criss-crossed his fingers and first knuckles as though he'd fed them into a whipper-snipper or perhaps the cooling fan on the car.

Just looking at them made me wince.

The mouse had done it he said. "What? Whipped you with his tail?" I thought to myself. Since he was a long way from being computer literate, he was clearly referring to the rodent variety.

He'd had a mouse in the kitchen apparently, and apart from a bit of scurrying and nibbling, it had remained relatively harmless until he decided to do something about it.

Whether it was due to the medication he was taking, or to some other condition I shall never know, but he had developed a pronounced unsteadiness in his movements, which translated to a rather uncontrollable shake in his hands.

Anyone who has ever tried to set a mousetrap will understand, that unsteadiness is not particularly compatible with that activity. With a great deal of self control and patience, he found that he could set it, but as he took the pressure off his hands his shaking would have them gyrating wildly through an arc which inevitably included making contact with one of the metal bits triggering the rotten thing, before he could withdraw to a safe distance.

Is it still called empathy when we laugh at another’s pain?

I didn't know at the time why I doubled up hysterically when he demonstrated the whole thing, plaintively holding up his blue fingers with a mouse trap hanging from them, but I did. Perhaps It was one of those " you had to be there" moments. Or perhaps I'm just a sadistic wretch for whom all hope is lost.

Or perhaps there is another explanation. Just recently I've read a bit about reading human emotion and facial muscles, and how one or two people have become experts on reading faces by analysing and categorising every micro muscle movement. It is clear that every twitch of a facial muscle means something to those with enormous amounts of knowledge, and also to our unconscious mind. It also became clear to me while reading all this stuff, that I have a terribly advanced but not quite perfect state of unconsciousness, which has a fully developed ability to read all of these expressions, but only a partly developed ability to translate them correctly.

Next time, when you do some major physical damage to yourself in my presence, and I fall off my chair laughing, please remember I'm not being unsympathetic, I've just mistaken a movement in your frrontalis, pars lateralis for your levator palpebrae superioris. A simple and quite understandable mistake really.

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