Three or four weeks after the scan. The required procedure or operation or whatever they call it was a laminectomy, which sounds like what you do when you renovate a 1950s kitchen, but is actually a way of easing pressure on the spinal nerve where it was being squeezed by the spine at the neck where it passes close to the gullet, or was it the oesophagus? The procedure was required soon, because my mother was having trouble breathing properly and couldn’t raise her arms, because the nerve radiates out and down the shoulders and arms. Don’t quote me on it, I’m not a doctor.
She was admitted four times. They rang her up and told her she was top of the list, and to be ready and prepared, like a parachute-backpacked airman set for a night mission, or an alert fireman on a hot day. Also, don’t eat anything after ten the night before, they said. And be here at the crack of dawn, they said. Fine. Four times.
The first time there was an emergency, meaning a more urgent case came up that morning, while she was already there, having arrived at the crack of dawn. Apparently they don’t have spare surgeons sitting around twiddling their thumbs or drinking coffee or surfing the net. It must be the only profession in the world with no down time. I used to work in one of the busiest industries in the world, and I still went nuts from boredom every second week. I should have been a doctor. They call my mother’s case ‘elective’, meaning you don’t die if it’s not done today. So they sent her home after five hours and told her she was still top of the list. That was nice to know.
It’s all her own fault, of course. The fact is, she wouldn’t die if they didn’t operate today or next week or next year. She’s fit as a fiddle and twice as mobile, strong as an ox and twice as stubborn. She walks a mile - each way - to the shops in North Essendon every day, and sometimes twice a day because she can’t lift anything heavy; so it’s bread in the morning and milk in the afternoon. She’s a voracious reader so she has to double her trips to the Moonee Valley Regional Library because she can only carry two or three books at a time. She gets on the tram that roars up Pascoe Vale Road, turns the corner into Fletcher Street, sails along Mt Alexander Road through the date palm plantation and tears around into Keilor Road; and she’s read three chapters of the first book before she gets off and walks the mile home. Of course, I deliver the heavy shopping, but she's always thinking of an excuse to do the Keilor Road dash. She's never driven a car.
Another three weeks drifted past, and she was called in again. This time the anaesthetist went missing. This is how hospitals work. It’s like the alignment of the planets. It might not happen often, but it does happen eventually. First you get the patients in and then you find an anaesthetist, a surgeon, a nurse, a sergeant-major at the front desk, and someone to count them all; and if one doesn’t turn up or is called away to an urgent case or gets stuck in Monash Freeway traffic or has a headache, you tell the patient to go away and come back next week, or next month, and good afternoon.
Being a person of generous spirit – she always has waifs and strays to Christmas and then they keep visiting – she did not become annoyed after the first or the second or even the third wait (only three hours this time), but her condition was not improving either. The odd thing is that the always very pleasant admitting staff became more and more apologetic about each cancellation, and so the effect was that my mother felt guilty and apologised right back to them, for being a nuisance or something. People are like that. It’s a funny world.