Vein thoughts on getting older and bedside manners
My eight-year-old son Harry was giving me a cuddle recently, and he looked up into my eyes and said: “Don’t make a face like that Mum – it makes you look old.”
Then he took a step back and said: “Wait, you’re not making a face. Mum, you ARE old.”
And you know what, Harry? Right now, Mum feels pretty bloody old, too.
I’m lying in a bed in room 11 of the Stirling Private Hospital in the Adelaide Hills, with tight bandages swaddling my legs from groin to ankle.
God knows how many centimetres of varicose veins have been stripped from my tired, aching legs.
I feel like a pin cushion and walk the few steps to my en suite with the precarious gait of Tony Abbott.
I doze and I ponder. I ponder and I doze.
I’ve been planning to get “my legs done” for a long time – I knew they must be bad at 29, when some guy wound down a car window to yell “Aghhhh, look at those varicose veins!”
It’s not that I want my body to look like it used to – without drastic action from top to tail, it’s a little too late for that. And it’s not that I want to stay young – at 42 it’s a little too late for that, too.
I just want my body to work. And I want it to work for a long time yet.
And who says a young body is the best body anyway?
The most beautiful woman I’ve seen in the movies of late would have to be Dame Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.
Besides, the nurses popping in and out of my room are all older than me.
They’re kind, experienced, fun-loving and nurturing – women who know exactly what they’re doing and make everything alright.
Many of these women cared for my Dad in his final days of life at the Stirling Hospital. They remember me from that time, almost three years ago, but more importantly they remember Don Barnes.
The feedback form I will sign at the end of my stay could not possibly convey how special they make me feel while I’m in their care.
I ponder, too, the charming doctor who chats and jokes as he marks my offending veins with black texta before I’m ushered into blackness with general anaesthetic.
He could easily be the face of our 16th national Census – with its revelation that one quarter of Australians are now born overseas – but I’m glad he’s right here at the Stirling Hospital, looking after me.
Dr Peter Subramaniam came to Australia to study medicine in 1982 with the plan of returning to Malaysia after graduation.
Meeting his “beautiful Tasmanian princess” put paid to all that.
So here he is, a vascular surgeon operating on (and no doubt saving the lives) of plenty of Australians who can’t even pronounce his name. In my post-surgery haze, that strikes me as rather hilarious.
It strikes me, too, that Australia is a far richer, luckier and smarter country for laying out the welcome mat to young men and women of the world like Peter Subramaniam.
Back in the pastel room in my quiet little corner of the hospital, Max has brought our twins Jack and Harry to visit after a cold and blustery day at school.
They show a fleeting interest in my blood-speckled bandages and an obsession with my iPhone apps.
I’d forgive them anything right now, though, and it’s not just the painkillers talking.
You know what Harry said after he told me I was old? He said: “Don’t worry Mum. I’ll still love you, no matter how old you look.”
I’ll be holding you to that, Haz.
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