My Dad

Dad was and is my hero….sadly he is no longer with me physically but he is there with me in spirit all of the time. I hear his voice often urging me through difficulties and celebrating achievements. Dad lived a life blessed by the love of a faithful, loving wife and loving children.

Dad’s life as a kid was filled with much sadness but he told me had many happy memories from his childhood. He once won a fancy dress competition when his mother made him a costume “stop here for trams” It was the depression and there was much money so his Mum dressed him as a tram/bus stop. He could not remember what he won and said it was probably just a certificate and he felt very proud to have won and very proud of his mum for making his prize winning costume.

He remembers his school days at the Catholic schools at Broadmeadow and Adamstown as happy times as he had a thirst for learning. He instilled this in me as the years passed. He remembers receiving the sacraments and he told me once his First Communion was a memory that held a special place in his memory and filled his necessitous life with great joy.

As there was never much money, accommodation was by necessity shared and often overcrowded. He told the story of living in Lambton with his Mum and Dad, four siblings, Aunt and Uncle and their four kids. All in a small two bedroom house. I was talking to one of these cousins (R) and he told the story of getting knocked by a car at the front of the house (they played outside in all weather as there was not much room in the house). I asked R if got into trouble and if he went to hospital. His response was he was not the one who got into trouble but his older brother (J) and Dad were scolded for not keeping an eye on him. As for hospital he said, such were the times, this was not even a remote option. He R, was allowed to stay inside however for the rest of the day and this was a rare treat. Dad maintained a strong and loving friendship with these men through his life.

One of his enduring memories was of being sent outside when his mother was giving birth to the youngest of the his sisters. Dad knew that something of import was happening so he stood on a box outside the bedroom window and watched the whole event unfold. He said he nor his actions were never discovered on this occasion. He said however, when misdemeanours were discovered discipline was hard and physical. He bore no ill-will towards his parents for this as that was how parenting happened.

He always said he remembers his childhood as a happy time despite the hardships and difficulties. The family moved often and this is something that I could never quite understand. When Dad became too infirm to drive I would often take him out for a drive in my car. One particular day we were in Broadmeadow and he was pointing houses where he had lived. After the fourth or fifth house (mostly along Brunker Road) I asked why they had moved so regularly and quite matter of factly his response was “The old man was not good at paying the rent”.

Sadly Dad’s mother, my grandmother, died when Dad was just 12 years old. M, was just a tiny baby. Grandmother had pernicious anaemia and there was no cure or treatment. He recalled however, his aunties boiling up masses of liver (lambs fry) and his mum drinking the resultant liquid. I cannot even imagine doing this. Dad, being the eldest of the five children, gave up school at this time to care for his younger siblings. He can remember following the horse-drawn hearse through the streets of Broadmeadow to make the train journey to Sandgate Cemetery. The vision of the black plumes on the horse’s heads remained with Dad throughout his 87 years.

The family were living in Lambton at the time of his mother’s untimely death but soon after moved to back to Broadmeadow. The lived opposite the Premier Hotel where Hunter Pain Clinic now stands ( a place I visit often). Back in Dad’s day it was a Pool Hall and they lived on the top floor. My Grandfather’s job was to manage the pool hall. I suspect the move back to Broadmeadow was so Pop could be near his sister who helped with the kids when she could. Ultimately however, Dad was not able to care for his siblings ( the youngest being just a few months old) and they were placed in care. No foster care in those days…..sadly the siblings were separated the girls going to Monte Pio in Maitland and Uncle B to Murray Dwyer at Mayfield West. This decision caused difficulties in the family for many years. The female siblings to felt a great sense of betrayal and bitterness towards their father and Aunty for not being able to provide them with the necessities. Dad did not go into care because by this time he was almost 14 and went to work. He worked for the Railways and when WW11 broke out he wanted to join the Army but the railways was a “protected” industry. Dad decided that if he could not join the army he would stop going to work. His boss came around to the house and asked him if there was something wrong and Dad told him he wanted to join the Army so his boss signed the forms and Dad joined up.

He served in Borneo and New Guinea and whilst he was home on leave he met Mum at his Aunty’s home (where she was working as a dressmaker) and they married at the end of the war. If Dad been alive they would have celebrated 70 years of marriage this year.

I read somewhere recently that dying well is simply an extension of living well. My Dad died six years ago today. He died as he lived surrounded by those who loved him. He gently slipped away with Mum and his kids, some of his grandkids and great grandchildren by his side. He had “waited” I believe several hours for Mum to be with him when he made this last journey. His passing was as gentle as he was and he quietly went to meet his God. He was asleep, his breathing slowed and he was gone. Then the realisation that life would not be the same again became apparent. Just as they did everything together, Mum was there to hold his hand and prayerfully guide his passing.

I miss my Dad. His story goes on in his five children, ten grandchildren, sixteen great grand children and one great great grand daughter.

Something will always remind me that he is close and watching over me.


Back to CRPS

The original rationale for writing this blog was to raise awareness about what it is like to live with a chronic health condition namely Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I have moved away from this somewhat in that I have used the blog as a vehicle for sharing some of my childhood and teenage memories. This grew out of my writing a memoir for my great grand-daughter. I have always had a fascination for my great-grandmother and I can remember her when I was a little girl quite clearly. More clearly in fact the I can recall my grandmother as she passed away when I was about 3 years old. There are many questions I have a my great grandmother – some of which I have discovered the answers to and some of which I am sure I will never know. In the hope that my first-born great grand daughter, will be interested in my life, she will have access through my writing to the answers to many of her questions.

Leaving that aside let’s get back to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). I have found it very difficult to write about CRPS just as I find it extremely hard to live with this dreadful condition. The unrelenting nature and quantum of the pain makes living CRPS difficult. It is difficult to have to go to a doctor and educate them about your condition. This difficulty is compounded by having to fight for appropriate pain relief and when in hospital or the emergency department educating staff about the sensitivities of the painful side of the body. For example, taking blood or measuring blood pressure on the left side for me can be a nightmare. It is also somewhat frustrating when the doctor tells you how well you look when you are wanting someone to amputate you leg or your arm.

It is difficult to explain the reasons you are unable to do certain things, like go for a walk or go shopping. People see that a person with CRPS looks fairly healthy and will often make comments like “well you could do it if you tried a little harder.” It makes it difficult also when you make plans you might have to change or cancel plans quite often as you cannot tell what each day will bring or if you are going to be capable of participating.

Earlier in the week I had a great day and for me a very big day. I went on a coach trip to the Art Gallery of NSW to see the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman exhibitions and then to Doyle’s for a sumptuous lunch. When I got home I was feeling somewhat exhausted and the pain was elevated. I commented to my HB that perhaps I should not have gone given how I was feeling. HB’s response was “you can be in this amount of pain when you have been at home and not done much of anything so I am really pleased you went and that you have had a good day.” He was right. I often refuse or deny myself experiences because of a “fear” of what it would do to the pain levels and attempts to implement principles of pacing. Pacing is a technique which involves determining the level of an activity that can be done on a bad day, then practising 80% of that level whether you are having a good or bad day. You do this for a few days, then increase by a small amount. Before learning how to pace, people in pain often stop doing things on bad days. This was a pattern that I initially fell into. When I first got CRPS, if I was having a bad day, I would do nothing and would often spend the day in bed. I rarely do this anymore. When you are having a good day it was easy to do as much as you could before experiencing pain, then stop. This is referred to as a Boom-Bust pattern. This gradual increase method (pacing) practised daily allows you to succeed in gradually improving your tolerance to an activity – in the boom/bust pattern you can’t. Learning good pacing technique takes the threat out of activity and can have a really amazing effect on brain pathways.  One of the amazing things about the excursion was I sat with a lovely lady at lunch and she was asking me about the reason I was using a walking stick. When I started to explain the look on her face said it all. She explained that some years ago she broke her ankle and developed CRPS. It did not spread from the site of her injury and she went into remission but she went on to explain the pain has been returning of late and that is somewhat worrying for her. I describe this interaction as an amazing thing as it is rare to meet anyone who has experienced CRPS in a social context.

So after my big day out the pain was no better or no worse than it could be on any other day. I was however extremely tired the following day and spent most of the day resting. Unfortunately by the afternoon the pain was ramped up to maybe 9 out of 10 on the pain scale and that stopped me from sleeping last night and diminished my capacity today.

However today was the funeral of a very old friend and neighbour of my family and I was determined to go and pay my respects to a loving, positive woman who had been a friend of my mother since they were young girls. More than 90 years. They lived in the same street as our family. Neither had moved from the suburb of their birth until it was necessary for them to go into care,

This lady was an amazing knitter and when Mum was in hospital “recovering” from the birth of one of my younger siblings she would come and stay with us while Dad would visit. In those days kids were not allowed to visit hospitals. On this particular evening as she sat with us out came her knitting and I asked if she would teach me to knit and teach me she did. I think after one session of her skilled instruction I was on my way and every time the needles come out I think of her. I had not seen some of her children for over 45 years and it was just great to reconnect with them and it is my hope that this reconnection will continue. The point I would like to make about this in regard to CRPS was the comments today about me looking so “fabulous”. it is amazing what your best outfit, make-up and hair gel can do when you are in pain.

How things have changed.

Today I googled the address of the street where we lived when we were kids. My parents lived there till about 5 years ago. dad passed away in 2011 and prior to going into care Mum lived with us for a time.

What I found interesting in this exercise was I could recall without too much trouble the names of the people who lived in each of the houses in the street when I was in primary school. Now having said this it was not a very big street and did not have through traffic. There were 14 houses on either side of the street – 28 in all.

What I found interesting about this was I knew the christian and surnames of almost everyone including parents and children…now in the cul de sac where we currently live there are just 7 houses. We have lived here for 20 years and whilst i know the christian names of all of my neighbours I only know the surnames of three families and one of those is because it is on the side of his truck. How times have changed.

I also found, by my google search, that there had been several serious accidents impacting on the residents of my childhood street. As a child I was not aware of these events as they would have been considered tragedies at the time and obviously would not have been discussed in front of children. This tendency gave me cause to reflect on the societal differences between children of the 50s and children of today. As kids we were shielded from the tragedies that befell families and individuals. Not so the kids of today. Not only are these things discussed openly in front of  and with kids but even very young children are exposed to the “bad news” via nightly news bulletins and social media. Is this a good thing or a bad thing….only time will tell.

Rats in the bed

I originally started this blog to raise awareness about Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). As many know I developed this condition following Total Knee Replacement (TKR) in 2010. It is of interest to note, that the by and of itself, the TKR was successful and the joint works very well. Why I developed this dreadful condition one can only guess but the literature and the doctors advise that the trauma of the surgery can lead to the development of the condition. I have spoken to people through Facebook who have developed CRPS as a result of a fall or a break or a sprain or simply a bump. One amazing young woman, I met when I was in rehabilitation, developed her condition when a chair was pulled from under her by a classmate playing a prank and she landed heavily on the floor.

I have not written about CRPS for quite a while and your feedback on my sharing of childhood memories has been well received and positive. I thought I would share with you a new symptom of CRPS that has developed much to my displeasure.

One of the interesting (?) things about CRPS is that there is no defined course of the condition. It can affect each person differently and the progress of the condition differs from person to person. In my case I have had a significant spread. CRPS spread from my left leg to my left arm and then to the left torso and side of the face. Then, that not being sufficient, it is in my right foot and arm. Some people do not have a spread and some symptoms don’t appear for some. One thing that is common however is the severe unrelenting pain. The pain score is highest on pain scales and is said to be higher than childbirth or amputation. For some people the pain does not retract. In my case I have days were it is bearable and days which are beyond unbearable. On these days of unbearable pain I am either confined to bed or the lounge. I try to make the best of the days when the pain falls to a manageable level.

One of the things I have experienced from the beginning of this journey is the feeing that ants are crawling on and biting my skin. Formication is the medical term for this sensation. It is one specific form of a sensation known as paresthesia.

At the weekend this particular sensation took a turn for the worse. At 2.00am on Sunday as I lay in the warmth of bed listening to the rain with my companion insomnia I had a new and never before experienced sensation. I leapt from the bed, ripping back the covers looking for the rodent that was biting on my leg. Hb awoke and assured me there was no rat in the bed. He thought I had been dreaming and soon went back to sleep. But that was not the case. The ants have gone and I now have the feeling that a small animal is gnawing on my left leg. Now I have never experienced a rat or any other animal gnaw at any part of my anatomy but what is happening now is like I imagine it would be.

I will phone the GP in the morning and let hm know about this. There is probably not much he will be able to do to diminish the sensation but I like to share the challenge.


My Aunt turns 90

Aunty R is really not my aunty but people of my generation all have people they know who, whilst not a familial aunty, become an “aunty”. Uncle P, her husband and my Dad were first cousins. They were very close, as close, as brothers really, as they were similar in age and when my Dad’s mother died when Dad was only 12 years of age, he spent much time with his cousin’s family and the two became like siblings.

When my Mum and Dad married Dad chose P to be his best man such was their bond. And my Mum and Dad first married they spent much time with Aunty R and Uncle P as they both lived in Merewether at the time. Mum and Dad moved to Hamilton and as did P and R and they lived one street from each other. As Dad and Uncle P aged they began to look like twins rather than cousins such was the resemblance.
In 1927, the year of Aunty R’s birth, King George V was on the throne and Stanley Bruce was the Prime Minister. Jack Lang was the Premier of NSW. The Australian Trade Union Council was formed and Parliament house was opened in Canberra. Charles Kingsford Smith made the first around Australia flight in ten days and five and a half hours. The first trans Atlantic telephone call was made, the Academy Awards were founded, the first talkie film the Jazz Singer was released…..In sport the Harlem Globe trotters played their first game.

Many notable Australians were born in this year, Slim Dusty, Frank Sedgeman, Bart Cummings, Dawn Lake and Clive Churchill. There have been many changes in society. In that time radio in every home, followed by the invention of television firstly B&W and colour, telephones initially fixed landlines and then mobiles, computers and the Internet and with it Social Media have had a major impact. Cars and overseas travel have become the norm. Society values have changed however Aunty R has maintained her strong faith and her strong values while moving with the times and accepting changes in society. Her strength has shown through at many times and in many ways over the years.
My memories of Aunty R are always ones of happiness. As a youngster we would often go to Merewether Baths in the summer months where the two families would spend time catching up as well as swimming and playing on the sand.

As a teenager I recall thinking how “cool” Aunty R was as she had her licence and could get herself around, could take the kids to school and my younger sisters C and R really liked this aspect of going to school with S and C.…..My mum never held her licence, so if Dad was not available, we had to walk everywhere.

Aunty R was always very fashionable and I am sure you would agree that through teenage eyes this was a very important quality in someone. Her hair was always immaculately coiffured and the latest style. Her clothes were fashionable but suitable to the occasion. This quality has not diminished as she has aged. One thing I do remember is that to my eyes Aunty R always wore high heel shoes. I cannot remember seeing her when I was young in “flatties”

I remember thinking as a teenager how wonderful it was for a person “as old as Aunty R” to sill be playing tennis. I would see her going off for a game of tennis in her little short tennis dress and think it was just wonderful and oh so glamourous. Now as I reflected on this it was some 50years ago and she would have been about 35 or 40. Not at all old really but everything is relative when it comes to age and I am a little embarrassed to admit I thought she was really old then…..I guess that is one of her other qualities, Aunty R is ageless, that the tennis must have been magic as she certainly does not look 90 years old.

Aunty R is a good and faithful friend to my Mum, visiting her regularly in the nursing home. She is a loving aunty to myself and my siblings.

Always a smile and a caring word, always interested in what we are doing and how we were going. This has been evident through Primary and Secondary School, always in my career endeavours and keen to know about the progress of my children, grand children and now my great grand child.

Aunty R, I wish you love, laughter, happiness and continued longevity as you enter into your 90th year …..Much love and best wishes.

My First Job

The year was 1966 and the opportunities available to women / girls were much more limited than the present day.

When I first “left” school at the end of Year 10, in the second year of the Wyndham Scheme, I went to work at David Jones at what was then called Kotara Fair. The Human Resources Manager from DJs had attended a careers night at my high school and much to my embarrassment Mum made me ask her about work. She recognised in me even back then an ability to talk to people. She told me that if I wanted a position at the end of the year to come and see her. So I began a short lived sales career.

I thought at the time it was very glamorous as initially I was in the lingerie section. and then it became even more exciting when I was moved to the record department. I remember one day Billy Thorpe came into the store to promote a recently released record. I did not tell my parents that he was coming into the store as I was nervous they might not have let me go to work that day. I had an argument with my parents some months earlier because they would not let me attend a Billy Thorpe concert at the Newcastle Town Hall. Two of my friends were allowed to go and I had even told Mum falsely that a parent would be accompanying us. She was adamant and the answer was a very definite NO. Mum woke me the morning after the concert with the Newcastle Morning Herald in hand to show me the headline that report a riot at the concert and three people were taken to hospital. So I thought it best not to tell her about the celebrity visit in case she was fearful for my safety.

Back then retail was very different – we worked 9 – 5 five days a week and 9 -12 on Saturdays. I cannot remember what the rate of pay was but I seem to remember that I was paid under $20 a week.

At the end of the Christmas holidays the State bursaries were announced and I was awarded a bursary which covered tuition and text books to complete Yrs 11 and 12. So I decided to return to school to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher. So I left the glamour and excitement of David Jones.

At the end of Yr 11 I met a young man with whom I knew, even back then, I would spend the rest of my life. (see previous blog). So when the HSC results and scholarships were announced a couple of things impacted on my decision not to take up a scholarship. Firstly I did not think I needed a career as I was going to marry the good looking fitter and turner and have babies. The feminist in me now is a little embarrassed to write these words but that was my thinking at the time. Secondly, my parents were not really in a position to support me financially any longer.

So I left books and study behind albeit temporarily and gained a position as a dental nurse. For a few weeks before this I had a job in Ells one of the big independent booksellers at the time but considered a career in dental nursing much more glamorous.

The First Date

I was discussing with my niece recently the current trend of online dating and dating apps. This caused me to think about how different things were when I had my first date with my husband.

It was 1967 and as a celebration for the successful completion of out Year 11 studies the school I attended held a Cabaret for girls and partners. Now I seem to recall, at the time, it was a pretty big deal. I had been “going out” with a boy for a few weeks and I had asked him to be my partner and he had accepted this invitation. However on the Friday before the Cabaret, he told me he did not want to see me anymore and he would not be accompanying me to the event. I was somewhat upset to say the least and was determined I would not attend on my own. I was to later find out that this particular young man had been involved in some illegal activity and the long arm of the law was about to catch up with him.

Mum had made my dress to wear on the night, shoes had been purchased and the hairdresser booked. In my dramatic teenage angst I announced I just would not be attending. Mum said that I would regret taking that stance and she came up with the idea that my older brother would accompany me. Well as far as I was concerned that was just not going to happen given that would be the height of embarrassment. So I sulked off to the phone booth to ring a coupe of male friends only to find they were already going. Again Mum was adamant I would be going and I was going with my brother. I should say that he was as reluctant as I was about this plan.

The following evening I went with a couple of girlfriends to a dance at the local hall in Tighes Hill. A fellow I had been seeing some months previously was there and he introduced me to a very good looking young man he had been to school with. I had not seen him at the dances before. Anyway he asked me to dance and in my desperation to not be seen at the Cabaret with my brother I asked him almost immediately to be my date for the Monday evening. He responded positively and he fitted the criteria. That is he had a suit, a car to transport me in and was very good looking. We danced and chatted until the dance finished at 11.00 and Dad came to collect my girlfriends and I. So I introduced him to Dad and told him I would see him on Monday evening.

Monday evening arrived and I guess i was a little nervous he might not show up as it had all happened so quickly. I was looking resplendent in orange chiffon with guipure lace and seed pearls at the neckline. Mum had my brother was on stand-by, just in case, but he was not needed. At the appointed time the good looking apprentice fitter and turner arrived and the rest as they say is history. I was 16, he 19. We married 3 years later in 1970.

My husband’s friend married a girl I knew slightly from a neighbouring suburb a few months after us and she and I are now very close and very firm friends.