Category Archives: Compassion

Step-Daddy’s Little Princess…Friday Fictioneers.

 

“Sweetheart, we love you so much. Pleeeeease come home, ” Sue desperately begged her daughter. “There’s lasagna for dinner… your favourite.”

Alice kept her gaze fixed on the floor, refusing to make eye contact. Seeing her mother again was like soaking in a warm bath, reminding her of how things had been once upon a time. Yet, the anguish in her soul, burned like a red-hot poker. That’s why she jabbed herself with the needles… to numb and forget the unforgivable.

“Alice, Emily misses her big sister.”

The heartstrings tightened until she could barely breathe.

No escape, Alice grabbed her bag.

….

100 words.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields, where we write up to 100 words to a provided photo prompt. PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

Hospital Cheer…Thursday Doors.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors.

This week’s Featured Door is attached to the Respiratory Investigation Unit at Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney.

When you think about having a Merry Christmas, the last place you want to end up, aside from the local morgue is in hospital. That also applies to the weeks leading up to Christmas where it seems like the rest of the world is floating in bubbly and doing the Christmas party circuit, while you’re shuffling from appointment to appointment. That’s not all bad if it’s all routine, good news and you can wipe all that off your radar.

However, it doesn’t always work out that way. Six years ago, after my auto-immune disease flared up again and was resisting conventional treatment, I found out that they were bringing out the big guns and I was having chemo for Christmas. Yet, while this might seem like the worse Christmas present EVER, we actually viewed it as a blessing, a heaven-sent answer to prayer, and not a curse. They could do something.

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I wasn’t intending to revisit this journey today for Thursday Doors. Although I had lung function tests followed by an appointment with my lung specialist, I was intending to focus on my apres-appointment trip into the city (Sydney) where I photographed oodles of intriguing, eye-catching and even historic doors.

However, before I sorted them out, I wanted to acknowledge the efforts hospital staff have made to brighten up the place, trying to lift your spirits through what are often very traumatic, bleak and desperate times. News you don’t want at any time of year, but especially not at Christmas. Bad things aren’t allowed to happen over Christmas. That should be written into the fine print. Moreover, you wouldn’t be the first person to try to sue God either. Do you remember Billy Connolly in The Man Who Sued God?

Anyway, when I turned up for my lung function tests today, they’d decorated the doors for Christmas and clearly I had to take a photo for Thursday Doors.

I still remember when I walk out of those doors when I was first diagnosed with the fibrosis, and was absolutely distraught. My kids were only seven and five at the time and obviously needed their Mum. I felt bad if I was even five or ten minutes late to pick them up from school, and it was incomprehensible that I wouldn’t be there to pick them up at all. I left the lab with a single tissue and ended up in the hospital chapel sobbing my heart out, and there wasn’t a single tissue in the place. As hard as that tissue tried to cope with the deluge, it was overwrought. I ended up having to sneak back into the hospital toilets, get myself together and buy some tissues. I distinctly remember saying I had hay fever. What a duffer. A year or so later, when things deteriorated, I burst into tears in the hospital shop and the pink ladies rallied around me with such love. They were beautiful.

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Christmas Decorations in the Northern Cancer Centre. I think they’re Santa Kangaroos.

Anyway, as I mentioned, my specialists decided to treat the flare up using a chemotherapy drug called cyclophosphamide, which then introduced me to the Northern Cancer Centre on level 1 for my treatments. While I was there, I found out they had a resource centre and I came across a series of work booklets put out by the Cancer Council. These were really helpful for dealing with those really hard questions around death and dying, especially for families with kids. I was mentioning these booklets to a friend recently and that’s what brought me back to lvl 1 today. _DSC7625

Christmas Raffle at the Northern Cancer Centre downstairs.

Having photographed the doors upstairs, I asked the staff if I could photograph their Christmas decorations. I felt like a bit of an idiot, but I wanted to back up the doors upstairs with a another example of how the hospital was getting into the Christmas spirit. Anyway, much to my delight, they upped the anti and asked me if I wanted to have my photo taken in their elf frame. Being an irrepressible extrovert, of course, I jumped at the chance. It was a lot of fun.

 

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Before I head off and while we’re talking about the hospital’s Christmas celebrations, when I was there on Tuesday, a jazz band was playing the foyer and it’s something they’re doing during December. I couldn’t thank them enough. I’d actually just been to see a friend and it was an emotional time. So, it was really therapeutic to listen to the beautiful music and feel soothed. It was so thoughtful!

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Well, I realize that talking death, dying and hospitals is a rather gloomy subject at this time of year, when I reflect that I’m still here six years later and in reasonable health, it actually becomes a celebration. A good news story which might touch somebody else’s troubled heart with a touch of hope. After all, as much as we might not want to be in hospital, the alternative is far worse and rather permanent.  So, I’d better close off this Thursday Doors with a huge shout out to all the doctors, nurses, physios, OT’s and support staff who help get us back on out feet and out the door.

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Silent Night by Rowena Curtin | Advent 2018 Day 5

Once again, I’ve participated in Solveig Werner’s annual Advent Calendar where people from around the world share their different experiences of Christmas and their various traditions. As a proud Australian, I do my bit to share what it’s like to celebrate Christmas Down Under where it is Summer btw and not a snowflake in sight. Indeed, Santa attends our local Christmas festivities onboard a fire truck.
This year I wrote about Silent Night and my mother’s experiences growing up as an Australian within a migrant community where everyone sang Silent Night on Christmas Eve in their native tongue.
Best wishes,
Rowena

Solveig Werner

Silent Night

By Rowena Curtin

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Mother Teresa

Two hundred years ago, on a cold Christmas Eve in 1818,Silent Nightwas sung for the very first time at St. Nicholas Catholic Church inOberndorf, Austria. As the daughter of a church organist, I remember how hymn numbers used to arrive at the last minute and Mum would dash off to the piano to practice. However, it never crossed my mind thatSilent Night, one of the world’s greatest Christmas carols, was also thrown together at the last minute. Or, that the words and music were written…

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Between Heaven & Hell…Friday Fictioneers.

Fred had never seen a chess set made of cheese before, and couldn’t resist chomping into the rook breaking at least two teeth and his pride.
“Oh, Fred!” gushed his wife. “I leave you for a minute, and more trouble. That’s going to be another couple of crowns. I’ll call the dentist.”
Yesterday, he’d overheard her talking about a babysitter, even sending him to a home. Darn this blasted whatsy-me-call-it! He was gunna shoot it.
Mary gave him another orange juice. The blur only deteriorated, and he no longer cared what it was called. Just as long as it hurried up.

…………….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Jeff Arnold

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Journey Without Steps…Friday Fictioneers.

All this motivational quackery was rubbish. My journey of a thousand miles was never going to begin with this step, and it wasn’t going to head straight up a flight of stairs either. Surely, there was a lift? Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to ask. Twenty-five years young with the rusty joints of an eighty year old, I was done explaining. I’d shut shop. It was much easier to stay home. Yet, that wasn’t a luxury I could afford. Lingering between the lines of disability and wellness, I had to work. If only I had the wings to soar….

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For those of you who’ve known me for awhile, I live with some chronic health and disability issues. When I was 25, I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus and had brain surgery to insert a shunt. My road to recovery felt like it was straight up the side of Everest without any safety equipment or assistance whatsoever, even though I was not alone. I really had comprehensive and loving support from my family friends and particularly my OT at Mt Wilga, who really helped me get through this incredibly hellish experience. Yet, I was the only one who could walk in my shoes. I was the only one who truly knew what it was like to put one foot after the other. I still had a job when I was going through that and yet my return to work date kept getting put back and their were complications. The valve of the shunt malfunctioned and I needed further surgery, which I really didn’t expect to survive. By this stage, returning to work seemed hopeless. My relationship had all but ended and it was a bloody hard slog. Yet, through all of that I always saw myself as a career woman. Work was very important to me. I ended up getting a part-time job and then landed what seemed to be my dream job in an advertising agency but the hours were very long and it was very stressful and one night I collapsed at Central Station from sheer exhaustion. I had to slow things down. Find a new path. One that wasn’t quite so steep and allowed me to heal. This was a huge life lesson for me and I clearly remember being told that I was a “human being and not a human doing”. I have a lot of adjustment to do and that is ongoing.

I would like to take this opportunity to raise awareness of the kinds of barriers people face when it comes to returning to work or finding a job when they have a disability, health issue or are just battling with life. How can we make their path a little bit easier? How can we reduce the load? What are we doing as a community to make their battle worse? Indeed, the finger of blame falls too quickly on the survivor instead of a helping hand.

Lecture over.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Jilly Funell

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Our Tenacious Little Dancer.

“I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.”

Louisa May Alcott

Today, our beautiful daughter suddenly grew a couple of inches taller when she stepped into her very first pair of pointe shoes and she was up en pointe. This has been something she’s been aspiring towards ever since she first started ballet as an almost four year old eight years ago. Indeed, I remember a time when she was very small and she stood in a couple of plastic cups to get the look (and a bit of added altitude). In hindsight, I probably should’ve got those cups off her feet and been more safety conscious. However, she was so happy, and it was too good a photo opportunity to miss.

In typical Rowena fashion, this pointe shoe fitting demanded a bit of pomp and ceremony. Indeed, quite frankly if she wasn’t twelve years old, I would’ve popped the  champagne, even though I’m not that partial to the taste. Even as a child, I was mesmerized by the theatre of it all what with popping the cork and all those bubbles shooting out like stars across the room with unbridled joie de vivre. Bubbly encapsulates the excitement, the celebration the exquisite preciousness of the moment in a way that nothing else does. You don’t even need to drink the stuff.

However, instead of a champagne celebration, we met up with my Mum for lunch and coffee and then the three of us headed off to Bloch’s for her 3.00pm appointment. By the way, our daughter wasn’t the only young dancer who had to get that very special pair of first pointe shoes on the very first day of the school holidays. The fitter had been flat out all day and we were something like her 11th fitting. Yet, she seemed just as excited for my daughter and for us as the first. As a dancer herself, she knew what this moment was about and really helped to make it special and informative. If there’s one thing I now know about pointe shoes, it’s not to get them wet. I also confess that I’ve also seen my daughter’s feet in a new light.

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We really appreciated the care and assistance we received at Bloch’s Hornsby with the shoe fitting. Naturally, the staff are dancers themselves and I felt that our fitter was handing down the mantle to our daughter. They actually gave her a certificate. She’d joined the club.

Our daughter has been learning ballet for eight years now and she’s worked very hard for the last 12 months doing all sorts of stretches to prepare her feet and toes. Indeed, she needed to have a physio consultation before she could go for her pointe shoe fitting. By that stage, her teacher already knew she was ready. However, she likes her students and a parent to be aware of the physicality of ballet and how the muscles bones and other bits and pieces come together to to produce your swan. Through being more conscious of this physical element and looking after your body, dancers can help prevent injury, wear and tear. Given the difficulties I have with movement, I have appreciated these physical realities through a different window, which has given me an insight into the physical demands of dancing. That it isn’t only about costumes, makeup and hair. After all, injury and being on the sidelines is not just an inconvenience for a dancer. It can mean The End, or simply the end of  dance as they know it. When dance is your passion and raison d’etre, that can feel like surviving your own death. (I’ve gone through that with my own battles.)

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There was so much to learn at her fitting and you can see here that Miss is very focused taking it all in. She hasn’t been swept away by the excitement of it all.

For every young dancer along with her birth and dance families, getting their first pointe shoes is rightly an incredible achievement and time for celebration. While you might see those beautiful pink satin pointe shoes and immediately think of the likes of Degas and his dancers and the professional stage, these young girls are still within cooeee of being the “awkward duckling” who started out. There were no guarantees back then and for us, there were  certainly no expectations. I just dropped her off for her first class and the mysteries of dance went on behind closed doors until open days or the concert. From where I sat, ballet was just a part of childhood for a little girl. A bit of fun. An activity. It had nothing to do with my dreams, unless it came to taking her photo. Now, that was something I understood.

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Edgar Degas, The Little Dancer. She reminded me of my daughter until I found out she was quite distorted.

Although I wasn’t so conscious of this at the time, seeing Miss in her pointe shoes really brought home what we’ve all been through to get her there. I don’t think anybody’s road is easy, but everybody’s road is unique with their own particular reasons why getting into those pointe shoes is a personal miracle and a triumph over adversity. Most of you will be aware that I live with a life-threatening auto-immune disease which affects my muscles and lungs. However, Miss has a rare digestive disorder called gastroparesis, which particularly flared up a few years ago and she was barely able to eat. Indeed, she was struggling to get to school or to ballet and she missed months of classes.

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Miss in hospital waiting for her endoscopy. So brave but she also loved having her own remote control TV!!

As you could imagine, it was very difficult to know quite how to manage the situation. We were very concerned about her actual health and it would’ve been quite a logical decision to cut out dance to focus on her schoolwork. Yet, we’re fighters. We might be holding onto the cliff face by our fingertips and kicking and screaming, but we don’t give up. Indeed, it was only after missing a couple of terms and feeling like all my motivational strength had run out, that I truly started thinking it was time to pull the pin. Her teacher was also very patient. However, dancing is a team sport and it’s hard to manage a team on three legs. So, with the end of year concert rapidly approaching, it was crunch time. As a possible way forward, her teacher suggested that her friend came over and they practice the dance together. I’m so thankful because her friend saved the day. That was the turning point. She picked up the dance. Was in the concert and was back on her dance feet again. Then, the following year, she had a friend at her new school who was a passionate dancer and she also a tremendous encouragement. By the end of that year, Miss decided to audition for Dance Team at the studio and was accepted. She hasn’t looked back and with the incredible training and support from her teachers, is growing from strength to strength. Clearly, with all these dance angels working flat out with her on multiple fronts, our daughter must’ve been destined to get up on those pointe shoes today. It’s been a real team effort.

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Afternoon Tea.

By the way, while we’re talking about life lessons from the road, organization has been another hurdle. While other girls have managed to get to class with a perfect ballet bun and all components of their uniform, all too often Miss could only find one ballet shoe and her ballet bun could well have been reinterpreted as a bird nest of its own unique variety thanks to her superfine hair, where getting the knots out produced spine-chilling screams. Yet, somehow or another, all of this has mostly become a thing of the past.

After explaining some of the hurdles we’ve had to overcome, perhaps you’ll understand why I thought this moment might never come and the tears of joy I held back while we were there as I felt like the happiest Mum alive. Back when our daughter was struggling, I remember seeing a group of older girls who’d just got their first pair of pointe shoes. They were exuberant and clearly this meant the world to them not only as individuals, but as a group. I felt so privileged to catch a glimpse through this keyhole and get an insight into just how important this moment is to a young dancer and what it would mean to my girl. Whatever happened with my daughter and dance, I wanted her to hang in there at least until she’d gone en pointe and  been a part of that bubble. Not for me, but for herself. I could could sense something in her soul, which is becoming more apparent with every passing year. Dancing is her thing. It isn’t her only thing but it lights her fire.

So, now we find ourselves at a new beginning. Once she goes en pointe, she has to learn to dance all over again. Although it is tempting to try to fast forward and think about where all of this is heading, he’s only 12 years old. The world is her oyster and there are still so many forks in the road. She doesn’t need to choose one yet. However, it can be difficult to maintain a balance and keep an open mind when you fall in love with such an alluring juggernaut that you could easily sell your soul to dance in ballet’s fire. Somehow, we just need to keep a level head and maintain a balanced path…at least for now.

After the fitting, she went to stay with my parents for the week taking her beloved pointe shoes with her. If they weren’t so precious, it wouldn’t surprise me if she slept with them under her pillow or close to her heart. They meant the world to her and I’m so proud of her for all she’s overcome, her hard work, dedication and most of all her passion for dance. I am also very grateful to all the people who have helped her along the way, her teachers, my parents but also very much her friends who have been so supportive and encouraging and that’s not something you hear much about in the dance world. She has some incredible dancing mates.

That is also why I am sharing our journey via the road less travelled for our daughter to get her pointe shoes.  That parenting isn’t all about bragging rights and showing off about your kids’ talents. It’s also about sharing about the hurdles and difficulties so other girls don’t give up along the way because they feel they don’t measure up. Aren’t good enough without giving it all they’ve got. I belong to the Muscular Dystrophy community and not everyone can get up on pointe shoes or dance in a conventional sense. However, that doesn’t have to stop you from finding a way. Indeed, I’ve done some adult classes myself and have my own pair of pink satin ballet shoes. I think it helps to understand that you’re not the only one who might be going through difficulties and wondering whether to persevere with dance or whether it’s all worth it. No one else can answer that on your behalf. However, we are meant to encourage each other and dance is such an exhilarating experience. It’s worth fighting for.

Do you have any dance stories you would like to share? Or, a story of triumphing over adversity? I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I have a strange sense of humour. However, after hearing about how her pointe shoes have paper mache in the toes and are very sensitive to moisture, including sweaty feet, I found I found a great deal of humour in this quote:

“Growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet”
Joni Ernst

So, if you see a dancer with plastic bread bags over er pointe shoes, you’ll know that’s our daughter!

Inside Skin…Ahn Do Paints Professor Fiona Wood.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”

― Aldous Huxley

So often, language is hopelessly inadequate. Last night, I found myself profoundly moved and yet despite all my years as a wordsmith and a thinker, I was left stammering unable to communicate.I guess that’s what happens when your doors of perception suddenly swing open, and you have a eureka moment.

I’d been watching a past episode of  Ahn’s Brush With Fame where he’d painted and interviewed Professor Fiona Wood, Australian plastic surgeon and burns specialist.  Professor Wood and scientist Marie Stoner developed a revolutionary spray-on skin to help burns survivors. This technology was a world-first and has been used on more than 1000 patients around the world. In 2005 they won the Clunies Ross Award (Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering) for their contribution to medical science in Australia. In 2005, Professor Wood was named Australian of the Year.

So, let me bring you into the studio now where Fiona is sitting on Ahn’s distinctive yellow chair. While Ahn’s secretly painting away behind the canvas, Ahn and Fiona’s conversation criss-crossed through her professional and private lives, and there were so many pearls of wisdom. Fiona is such an amazing thinker, and Ahn has a way of drawing people out, although I also understand that painting someone’s portrait tends to do that. Ahn is also deep and profound himself.

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

Leonardo Da Vinci.

However, as much as I was touched by much of the interview, there was a particular part of their conversation which stopped me dead in my tracks. Indeed, today I’ve paused and rewound this section many, many times trying to capture the exact wording. With these two kindred’s swept away into their own little skin paradise, pinning down their words wasn’t easy.

The conversation began when Fiona was admiring the other portraits in the studio, particularly their eyes,  and it flowed on from there and they started discussing skin, almost as an entity in its own right:

“When I’m trying to teach surgery, it’s like teaching shades of white (Yes) and some people just get white. That it’s a 3D  or 2D surface. It’s layered isn’t it? It’s the layers of the system.(Yes! Yes! Yes! It’s not just skin colour) It’s not skin colour. What colour is it? Skin Colour? I mean give me a break.

(As a kid, you get a packet of coloured pencils and there’s one skin colour.) Like nuh (It never works. No. That’s not how people look.)

“Round face, skin colour…Hmm probably not going to fly really.”

(Ahn’s comments are in brackets here. Please forgive my dodgy transcribing.)

As you could imagine, as a burns specialist, Dr Fiona Wood has an exceptionally intimate knowledge and understanding of skin, which flies right over the heads of us mere mortals, including myself. However, her appreciation was not lost on Ahn who has appreciated similar complexities of tone through the lens of an artist…a painter of portraits.

“All our knowledge has its origin in our preceptions.”

Leonardo Da Vinci.

Unfortunately, as much as I love the written word, these black and white words on the screen fail to convey the animated intensity of their conversation. That sense of not only seeing eye-to-eye but soul-to-soul. That rare synergy where you become lovers of the soul and that fusion is just as intense. As Dr Fiona Wood said at the conclusion of the show:

“My highlight today was actually talking about how images go from 2D to 3D and how the light reflects off the skin and how amazing skin is  and talking to someone who gets that. Cause skin is amazing.”

Professor Fiona Wood

As a writer or creative person, I’m naturally interested in how other people see and perceive the world, particularly when they re-frame something ordinary and present it   through a different lens. I’ve tried with all my might to try and walk in someone else’s shoes. Moreover, I’ve left my own shoes out, hoping someone else would try them on and gain more than just an inkling of the inner me. So, seeing how two people could get so animated and excited about skin and perceive it as more of a complex and detailed landscape than a continuous monotone, intrigued me. I also found it unusual to hear two people discussing skin tone, because it can be a real taboo.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

HARPER LEE, To Kill a Mockingbird

Not unsurprisingly, I’d never stopped and appreciated what an artist and plastic surgeon might have in common… a shared fascination with the human body and in this instance skin. Indeed, I’ve never even thought of skin in this way. That’s also interesting to me on a personal level as one of my uncles is a plastic surgeon and another is a dermatologist and this would be familiar territory for them. I also have my own take on skin because my autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis, also affects my skin. However, I’ve never had to think about reconstructing a severely burned body and all that entails. Moreover, when it comes to paint, abstract is my friend. Indeed, I’ve never even considered what goes through the mind of a surgeon who is wanting to reconstruct a severely burned or injured body and trying to get it as close as possible to its “before”. It’s a form of art and yet so much more because the patient’s life and contentment are in their hands. The more you can reduce the scarring, the better the outcome for the patient and Fiona has clearly devoted herself to that end.

So, now I’d like to encourage you to watch this episode for yourself. Even if their discussion on skin doesn’t appeal to you, the are plenty of other pearls to treasure.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Best wishes,

Rowena