Life in lockdown

To say that 2020 has not been the year any of us expected back when we celebrated New Year’s Eve and made our New Year’s resolutions would be an understatement. I bought my 2020 planner with great expectations of how its pages would fill with a record of my productivity, but months and months of it were left blank as time passed and the crisis deepened.

In Australia, we’ve been relatively lucky, with few deaths and not many cases compared to many other countries, though our state of Victoria is in the grip of a concerning second wave at the moment. Here in New South Wales, we are getting a tiny trickle of cases, but so far things are continuing along as “normal”, whatever that means in these strange days.

Restrictions have eased since our full-on lockdown from the end of March through to late May. Schools are open, as are restaurants and pubs, though with some restrictions. But many people are still working from home, if they can, and public transport is half empty. It feels as though at any minute it could all change again in a heartbeat.

This has been both a good and a bad time to be a writer. I was unable to write at all when things first got bad, overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster. I did a lot of reading in those early weeks. Every day, the news was so horrifying, and the only way to stop compulsively checking for updates was to lose myself in a book. When life feels like a disaster movie, what else do you do but escape into fantasy?

But after a while, I settled into the new reality, and actually found it helpful to have everyone home with me. My son was doing school online during lockdown. He’s seventeen, so he didn’t need my help, but we used to sit together at the dining table every day. He’d work on his schoolwork, and I’d write, and we’d both motivate each other to stick to it and get it done. Some days my girls, who are both at uni, would be sitting there with us, and it felt like a hive of industry. (Except my middle child is a terrible procrastinator, and her chatting would derail the rest of us!)

Lately, I’ve discovered the motivating power of the virtual “office”. I’ve been getting together with writer friends via Zoom. We have a little chat, then mute the meeting and get to work. It’s interesting how just having someone working away in the corner of your screen encourages you not to goof off and actually stick to what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s almost as good as having my little study buddy sitting next to me at the dining table.

I hope you’re safe and well, wherever you are, and that you and your family are coping okay with these strange times we live in. I’ll be over here writing, I guess, and hoping for better news for the world soon.

The $2,000 skewer

Remember the story of the $327 hair-washing hose? Ha! That was nothing. Just a trifle. I now have a much better “outrageous sums of money my children have cost me” story.

See that 8-inch piece of bamboo? Not the most glamorous piece of bamboo you’ve ever seen – a bit bent and hairy, perhaps – but without doubt the most expensive sliver of wood ever.

This is the skewer that, covered in yummy chicken, Baby Duck dropped on the floor on Sunday.

“Pick it up!” his sisters yelled, but Baby Duck, not being a man of lightning reflexes – or possibly any reflexes at all – sat and watched as the dog pounced. I rushed back in from the kitchen, barely ten feet away, but too late.

I’m still gobsmacked that she managed to down the whole thing so quickly. How do you swallow a whole 8-inch skewer loaded with chicken that fast? I kept staring at the floor, expecting to see pieces of wood – I mean, really? Who eats the wood? – but there was nothing.

So the worrying commenced. Monday morning she threw up, but she seemed so normal otherwise I crossed my fingers and hoped it was unrelated. When she did the same thing Tuesday morning I had to give up on the coincidence theory and take her to the vet. The vet checked her out but could find no other symptoms so it was back home to the worrying and watching.

Finally on Friday morning we had a different dog. Instead of bounding out of her bedroom (the laundry), eager to hoe into breakfast, she limped out and looked at Drama Duck as if to say “do I really have to eat that?” She had a couple of mouthfuls to be polite but that was it. She could hardly manage the stairs either and was obviously in pain, so it was straight into the car and back to the vet.

They operated and found the skewer had gone through her stomach wall and was heading for her liver. Fortunately there were no signs of peritonitis, which was my big worry, so they removed the skewer and sewed her back up. I’ll spare you the close-up of her scar – it’s quite gruesome.

But she’s back home now, looking sore and sorry, poor baby. The Carnivore’s feeling rather pained too.

“We could have let this one die and bought two dogs for that kind of money,” he grumbled. Can’t let anyone suspect he’s actually fond of the stupid animal.

I was so pleased the vet kept the skewer for me. Is that weird? I was busting to take a photo and share it with you. I guess I’ll just throw it out now, though it’s tempting to hang it round Baby Duck’s neck, like the albatross in “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”, to remind him to be a little faster next time he drops something on the floor.

Or I could just dock his pocket money for the next 40 years or so.

Turnip brain

Proving yet again that she is a cross between a particularly stupid golden retriever and a turnip, Two Planks has outdone herself. Today she devoured a chicken skewer that Baby Duck had dropped on the floor – wooden skewer and all. I am now anxiously watching her for signs of imminent death from pierced intestines.

I’m trying to reassure myself. She’s eaten all kinds of weird stuff in the past, from half-bricks to chunks of wood to thorny plants, with no ill effects. And hopefully she did actually crunch that sucker up instead of swallowing the damn thing whole. But still.

I may only be a blue belt in taekwondo, but I’m a black belt in worry. Fingers crossed this is another case of me imagining dire scenarios that never come to pass.

Does anyone else have a pet with a death wish?

Stupid dog.

The saga continues

Just dropping in to say I haven’t run away to join the circus, in case you’re wondering why things are so quiet around here. Baby Duck is back in hospital. His “recovery” was plagued by setbacks, till he was clearly in such pain another trip to emergency was necessary. He was operated on last Friday for a bowel obstruction and is now finally starting to come good again. He even had some ice cream and jelly yesterday, his first food in over a week. The poor thing was down to 18kg on the weekend – he looks like a stick figure – but is slowly putting weight back on due to intravenous nutrition.

And in the midst of all this drama and pain, you know what he keeps worrying about? That he’ll be in hospital for my birthday.

That child is just so gorgeous I could eat him up.

Baby Duck and the very bad horrible no-good appendix

One Sunday morning about 4 o’clock, a little boy woke up and chundered all over the floor. Oh goody, thought his parents, a vomiting bug! But on Monday night it occurred to his mother that, for a vomiting bug, there was very little vomiting going on, and rather a lot of complaining about stomach pain.

“Where does it hurt?” the boy’s mother asked.

“Right here,” he said, pointing at his belly button.

Uh oh, thought his mother who, in a weird coincidence, had just been discussing this very symptom with a friend whose son had appendicitis. So on Tuesday morning she made a doctor’s appointment.

“My son has been vomiting and complaining of stomach pain,” she said, “and I just want to check it isn’t his appendix.”

Ha! Famous last words, as they say in the classics. The doctor sent the boy straight to the emergency department, where they waited. And waited. And waited, as one does in emergency departments everywhere. About one o’clock in the morning the boy was admitted to hospital, and by 9:30 the operation was underway.

Poor Baby Duck! The surgeon made a last-minute decision to x-ray, given the odd location of the pain, and discovered a twisted bowel as well. So he ended up with more than one cut. The tip of his appendix was gangrenous, he had an abcess and adhesions, whatever they are. I don’t know – they tell you things and you nod and look like you’re functioning normally, but the words just go whooshing past without sticking properly when you’re worrying about your precious baby. I heard “infection” and “almost perforated” – or was it “perforated”? – “long hospital stay” and not a lot else really.

Thursday we started getting him to take little sips of water, which all came back with added green yuck on Thursday night. “Bowel obstruction” was mentioned and I spent the night panicking. Fortunately things started to improve slowly after that, and Tuesday morning he came home after a week in hospital.

For a little while, anyway. Tuesday night he was vomiting again, so it was back for another day in emergency yesterday. What fun! Now, touch wood, he’s home for good, and feeling much better.

“Are you going to write about me being in hospital on your blog?” he asked.

I think he wants me to tell you how brave he’s been. I couldn’t exactly put my hand on my heart and swear to that one, but I guess it depends on whose definition of bravery you’re using. By eight-year-old standards he did pretty well. I can tell you he was very well-behaved. All the nurses commented on his lovely manners, and how easy he was to deal with.

It’s so good to have him home again. It was a hard week for all of us – very disruptive for the girls, and the Carnivore and I are both short on sleep. One of us was with him 24 hours a day. Nothing got done beyond the most basic necessities. It must be so hard for families who have someone in hospital for a long time.

We were lucky too, that we have an excellent children’s hospital only half an hour from home. It’s times like these I’m grateful we live in Sydney, rather than out in the country somewhere. Country life seems idyllic until you consider the whole airlift-to-hospital-in-a-strange-city aspect.

So, not a great week. Ironically, I was on a roll with Verity on the Tuesday morning, busy congratulating myself that I only had two scenes to write to finish the first draft. I’ll do some more when we get back from the doctor’s, I promised myself. Needless to say, I haven’t written a word since.

Life with kids is often unpredictable like that. At least it’s never dull.

Confessions of a worrywart

My mother has a black belt in worrying. Nothing is too large or too small for her to fret over, and if she has nothing to worry about, well, she just dreams something up.
It’s possible I may have inherited a tiny little smidge of this worry gene. I’m nowhere near her level of expertise, and I do try to keep it under control, but it’s not easy. “Hello, my name is Marina and I’m a worrywart.”
It also seems to be infectious. The Carnivore will occasionally give me an accusing glance and say, “I never used to worry about things like [insert trivial thing here] before I met you.”
It’s certainly been worse since I had children. I worry about every little facet of their lives. I worry that they’ll turn out like me. I worry that they won’t.
It seems as if the girls may be turning into sportswomen. Nothing could be more astonishing to me. If they grew wings or sprouted an extra head I wouldn’t be more surprised. There are rocks that are more interested in sports than me. And yet here they are, both keen and competent netballers. And today they had their first tennis lessons and loved it.
I would think that there must have been some mix-up at the hospital and I accidentally brought the wrong babies home, except …

Yeah, I worried about that too. And let me tell you, there is no greater worrier than a crazy, hormone-filled pregnant worrier.
When Drama Duck’s due date was approaching, I sprang a special surprise on my obstetrician.
“When the baby is born, I want to write on it.”
My obstetrician was a lovely man. He didn’t laugh or offer to prescribe drugs for the crazy pregnant lady.
“I seeee. Would you mind telling me why?”
“I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to create this baby, and I don’t want to accidentally bring the wrong one home from hospital.”
“You are aware that they put ID tags on the baby’s wrists and ankles in the hospital?”
“Yes, but I’ve heard they can slip off and I want to be sure that I get my baby.”
“You know that every time the nurse brings your baby to you, she will check the ID tags and ask you to check them too? They’re very careful about it.”
Don’t care don’t care don’t care I want my baby. I had nightmare visions of getting the wrong one and then five or ten years later being told I had to give back the child I had raised and loved as my own.
When he saw that I was set on it he asked what I was going to write with. I hadn’t expected that question.

“Um – a texta?”

“I’ll give you a surgical marker. It won’t wash off for days.”
See? I told you he was a nice man. And he did, too. I have the photo to prove it.
Then the only question was what we should write. The Carnivore and I discussed options such as “Ours” or “Property of …”. In the end we decided on the nickname we had given her through the pregnancy, when we didn’t know who she was. Actually mainly he had given her.
Thus my flawlessly beautiful baby daughter came to have the word “SLUG” printed on her back in her daddy’s messy handwriting.