Waiheke, though only a short ferry ride away from Auckland city, is like a different world. We spent twenty-four hours there, visiting the Heartsong Retreat at Rocky Bay on the south side of the island.

Planned as a special occasion, being our first trip away from home since Brian’s cardiac collapse three months ago, it turned out even better than we hoped it would be. Following violent thunderstorms on the previous night, the skies cleared on the voyage out, and the weather stayed sunny throughout our stay. We had lunch at Vino Vino in the main village of Oneroa, on the deck looking over the sea, before catching one of the ancient buses for a bumpy but scenic ride up and down hills covered in vineyards and native bush. Every aspect of Heartsong was lovely: our comfortable private cottage with its flower gardens and ocean views, the spa pool surrounded by palm trees, the walks down to the beach, the hot stone massage, the friendly cat and dog, the delicious meals brought up to us by the welcoming and caring staff.

Spiritual teachers and self-help experts say that our well-being does not depend on circumstances and surroundings, because true happiness comes from within. I am obviously not highly evolved enough to appreciate this, having felt so much more energetic and relaxed while on Waiheke. Hopefully the benefits of our “mini-break” will be sustained through the next round of hospital appointments and period of domestic routine.

Here we are at Heartsong, with the beach huts at Rocky Bay in the background.

B & J @ Heartsong Retreat.jpg


Frequent attenders

As a former doctor, I know that people who frequent medical settings are often regarded as a burden on the health service, and often attract negative labels such as “fat file patients” or “heartsink patients”. Now, after many years of being reasonably well and not taking any regular medication, I fear we are in danger of entering this category ourselves. As Brian remarked today, our lives have come to resemble a medical soap opera.

The latest episode began last Wednesday. My appointment in gynaecology outpatients at North Shore Hospital finished in time for me to go over to Auckland City for the evening’s choir practice. But just as we were about to start singing, Brian called my mobile phone. He had fallen over in the garden and hurt his leg. What would otherwise have been a fairly minor injury was potentially serious for someone on the anticoagulant drug warfarin, and his thigh was gradually swelling up. A kind neighbour drove him to North Shore Hospital and I set off at top speed to meet him there.

I have become very familiar with the hospital’s car parking system and bus services, and with the layout of the emergency department. The doctor who had seen me during my episode of hypertension and tachycardia last month greeted me warmly. I also recognised the doctor who had examined my mother prior to her emergency surgery for bowel prolapse.

Brian was assessed by a highly competent nurse specialist who, having discussed his case with the consultant on call, cleaned and bandaged his leg wound and recommended an overnight stay, with two-hourly neurological observations just in case there were any signs of bleeding into the brain. Luckily there weren’t.

After another largely sleepless night for us both, I drove back to the hospital to bring Brian home. For the rest of that day he could hardly walk and was in considerable pain, but since then has been gradually recovering from this latest setback. After review with his GP, we agreed that he could now stop taking warfarin, so that is one less drug for the twice-daily medication round.

We have many more outpatient visits coming up in the next fortnight: pacemaker clinic and ECHO cardiology (Brian), abdominal CT and surgical review (my mother), hypertension clinic (me). I have also booked a session of energy healing for myself. I hope I can keep the morning free for that appointment and that it will help with my episodes of fluctuating blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature which are presumably stress-induced. Meanwhile lying on the grass with one of the cats, in this case Leo, is the best way to relax.


Life imitating art

Not long after publishing a series of novels with a medical theme, and my previous blog post about the portrayal of illness in fiction, I was overtaken by some real medical dramas. Both my husband and my mother required emergency hospital admissions followed by major surgery, and I developed some health problems of my own. All this reminds me of the saying about “life imitating art”. This is attributed to Oscar Wilde, although I don’t think he meant it in quite the literal way I am using it here.

The similarity between the content of my own writings and the events in my family was too general to be truly remarkable. All the same it was perhaps an illustration of the Law of Attraction: the idea that continued mental focus on a topic, in this case sickness, will result in its practical manifestation.

There have been other much more striking instances of fiction seeming to predict future events. One example is the novella called “The Wreck of the Titan” which foretold the sinking of the Titanic in considerable detail. Some readers dismiss this as coincidence, others believe in a metaphysical explanation.

There is also a saying about “art imitating life”, which means that creative work can be inspired by true events. Certainly, most writers do base their stories to some extent on personal experience. But whether the traumas of recent weeks will provide material for my own fiction in future is too soon to say. Some aspects  – for example the responsibility of having to make life-or-death decisions on a relative’s behalf, the complexities of the mind-body connection, the pitfalls which can delay the diagnosis of a serious disease, the search for meaning in illness – could certainly be woven into an interesting plot, though it would require a more skilled writer than me to do them justice. But dealing with long-term illness in the family also involves a lot of sadness, worry, waiting, tedium and hard work – which hardly make for interesting or uplifting reading. I shall try to find more cheerful subject-matter for my next book.

The long and winding road to recovery

Today is a Sunday, and also All Saints Day. After many weeks of absence, I’d been looking forward to returning to St Patrick’s Cathedral to sing in the choir at 11 a.m. Mass, always an uplifting experience. But I didn’t make it. With our various family health issues still ongoing, dealing with domestic practicalities and medical appointments leaves little time or energy for anything else.

Although life is still not easy, there are plenty of good things to be thankful for. Brian is making a splendid recovery from his cardiac surgery five weeks ago – though an atheist, he talks of a “miracle”. He can go for long walks on the beach; climb up and down the steep hills around our house; and do some work in the garden. The limiting factor is that he cannot yet lift heavy weights, because it will be three months before his divided sternum will be fully healed. Nor, because of the pacemaker insertion, can he raise his left arm above shoulder level. His mood is cheerful, and there is no sign of the cognitive impairment which he feared might follow such a massive operation. Having reached the age of 82 without being on any regular medication, he is now on five different drugs, which are presumably necessary at present though we hope some of them can be discontinued in future.

Meanwhile, the health of my 91-year-old mother has become the main focus of care and concern. Now home from hospital following emergency abdominal surgery, she is making a good recovery from the operation itself, and striving with great determination to cope with independent life again. But there are problems with managing her ileostomy and I only hope a satisfactory system can be worked out, and that it will be possible to reverse the procedure in a few months time.

My own symptoms continue on and off, and while further investigations are in progress I try not to worry about them too much. Friends and family continue to be wonderfully supportive and we have greatly appreciated all the messages of support, the lifts to hospitals, and the gifts of food and flowers including this lovely bouquet from the Cathedral Choir.

Flowers from choir