Secrets to happy flying. Slip the crying baby strong drink, and have your flu shots.

November 20, 2012

I am writing this from the very front of the plane. 1A.

My own special pillow. Chilled champagne. Well-dressed ladies in sensible shoes are feeding me strawberries dipped in warm chocolate. The captain is playing The Best of The Eagles. The screen in front of me is showing the latest TAB odds.

Then I woke up.

I am, in fact, a fair way from the front. Closer to the rear toilets. I had gambled on my seat allocation, in the hope that the middle seat next to me would remain vacant. Every economy traveller’s dream.

Things were looking good, until the very last passenger made his way up the aisle. He was, of course, my man.

The bloke behind me has a severe dose of Spanish Flu. His cough is something they include in medical training videos. Sneezing every sixty seconds, at the back of my head.

The small child next to me is finally asleep. After crying for nearly an hour. I had been doing my best to slip one of those small Scotch bottles into her sippy cup, but to no avail. Probably just as well. I will need strong drink soon to fight off these germs.

Don’t get the wrong idea here. I enjoy flying. It’s just that I prefer to have empty seats all around. And medical clearances for those on board.

Mum hated air travel. It made no sense to her, how these giant machines could stay up there. She preferred the train, or the bus, when she would come to visit.

I only remember flying once with Dad. We flew to England together, when I was fourteen. How that came about is a story for another day. But it’s fair to say that he was a nervous flyer.

We took our seats. I was excited. He was sweating. Things picked up when they told him he was eligible for free beer. Dad took them up on their kind offer. Those nerves were washed away in no-time.

Hold the sick bag. Another cough/sneeze of enormous proportions from 21C. It would seem fairly certain that he is not going to make our destination. I hope we’re allowed off before they collect the body.

There was a time when there was little else to do but eat, drink and sleep on flights. Now, it’s an entertainment arcade at 30,000 feet.

Most are on laptops. Some working, others punching out dribble. There are i-pads and i-pods in action at almost every row. Others are watching Mr Bean on the mini-screens.

I should go now, before the seat belt sign is turned on. I would hate to be responsible for mucking up the pilot’s electronics. Especially after he was so good to me earlier.

One final splutter and spray from the patient behind me. RIP 21C. Thank you for making my flight so enjoyable. I think I’m getting a cough now. And a sore throat. Where’s that little bottle of Scotch?

Angels in flat shoes. Why our nurses deserve so much more.

August 28, 2012

From a 5-year-old, it was a stroke of brilliance. A plan that just had to work.

I was in a little coastal hospital, with tonsils that were deemed no good. At a time when the mere whiff of tonsilitis meant an operation to whip them out.

It was sold to me as being necessary to end the weekly sore throats. And as a bonus, there’d be unlimited ice cream afterwards.

Sounded good. Until they told me that I’d be spending the night there alone.

No beds for parents back then. Mum and Dad had to go home without me.

Dad told me everything would be fine, and they’d see me first thing in the morning.

Mum, however, was teary. It was the first time we’d been apart. She was as upset as I was.

She hugged me, a giant squeeze from a tiny lady. And that gave me the opportunity to put my plan into action.

I grabbed her wrist, and held on for dear life. Small fingers in a death grip. Everyone else laughed, but I was serious.

They couldn’t leave me, if Mum was trapped. I’d hang on all night, and keep her with me.

Mum tried to reason with me. Dad tried to unwrap my bony fingers. He could have succeeded, of course, but let the show continue for a little longer.

It was a nurse who saved the day. Or night. I still remember her smiling face, promising me she wouldn’t leave my side, until my parents returned.

My grip eventually loosened, and with more tears, they departed. True to her word, that lovely woman stayed close, until I fell asleep. My first encounter with the angels who nurse.

A few years later, I broke my wrist. Playing soccer in the backyard, I fell, landing on the concrete lid of the old septic tank. This time, it was off to the big hospital.

I don’t remember much of the ordeal, expect that it hurt like hell. But there was a bigger drama, that Dad explained to me when I was older.

There were no beds. So we spent seven hours on a trolley, in the hospital corridor.

I do remember Dad doing his block. It was one of the first times I’d seen him blow up. While he was battling anyone who came near, it was a nurse who took pity on us. Not a doctor or administrator. Another angel.

Somehow, she got me a bed. And soothed the old man at the same time. Quite a feat.

Since then, I’ve seen them work their magic through the eyes of a parent. When you need all the help and reassurance you can get.

One night as a youngster, The Teenager had a fever that would have fried eggs. We’ve always been able to tell her temperature through the soles of her feet. Weird but true.

They were scorching. So it was off to an even bigger hospital.

Every parent knows the feeling of helplessness, when a child is sick. You think the worst, immediately.

The emergency ward was bustling. Doctors were flat-out. When it was our turn, the medico didn’t waste time or words. If the fever didn’t come down in the next few hours, our first-born would be admitted.

I thought back to the five-year old’s death grip, all those years ago. I didn’t want her to have to come up with the same plan.

For her part, the Not-Yet-A-Teenager was more interested in reading their colourful books. With steam coming off her forehead. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince her to drink the water they’d given her, to get that temperature down.

Panic wasn’t far off. Until a nurse came to the rescue. Male, this time. He convinced her what a cool idea it would be if she could read AND drink. Made it a game. It worked a treat.

All those stories came back to me, as I sat in hospital myself over the weekend. An unpleasant but necessary bout of surgery.

Late at night, it wasn’t the surgeon who provided me with comfort (although it should be said that he, too, was fantastic).

It was my nurse. Full of caring and compassion. With expertise to match. And the ability to ignore major levels of yuk. At all hours. Making things better. For scared little kids and impatient old farts.

What a noble profession. What wonderful people. Worth so much more than they’re getting.

Next time you’re in hospital, or visiting someone who is, thank the people in uniform. Our nurses. If you can’t keep Mum with you, there’s no better replacement.

My Olympic tradition. Getting that sick feeling every four years.

July 31, 2012

The Olympics make me sick. Not that I don’t enjoy the Aussies in action. It’s just that over time, the Games have been bad for my health.

The trend began in 1996. I was fighting fit, living in Cairns. With a connection to some wonderful Australian Olympians.

Atlanta was the host city that year. And for the first time, softball was an Olympic sport.

Before making their way to the U-S, the Aussie girls headed to the Far North for a training camp. I was lucky enough to cover their preparation, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive bunch.

I was ready to follow their plight with interest. Perhaps with a small wager on them winning a medal. Until I started to feel unwell.

It started with a headache. And no, cruel friends, it wasn’t self-inflicted.

This was a throbbing jolt. Like a sledgehammer. The only thing that took my mind of it was the fact that I was in pain all over, and sweating like the dodgy bloke in Casablanca.

Being a male, it goes without saying that I have incredible powers to absorb such suffering. And of course, not complain at all. But this was something else. I gave serious thought to the music they’d play at my funeral service that week.

It got so bad that I needed medical help. The doctor, also a male, offered his sympathies. His expert opinion was that I had come down with the dreaded dengue fever.

That was, however, until the first spot came out. An angry red blob on my head. Followed by others, across the length and breadth of my poisoned body.

Cancel the tropical fever alert. This was a case of the childhood disease, Chickenpox.

I’ve never felt so sick. And, when the spotting ceased, the feeling of death was replaced by an itch that could send the toughest of men to the rubber room.

The timing of my illness meant I was confined to the couch for two weeks. The very two weeks that the Olympics were on the small screen.

So I sat there, feeling sorry for myself, and scratching every dot of skin that I could access with untold vigour.

The only positive was that I could cheer the Aussie softballers at all hours of the day and night. They won bronze.

I managed to stay healthy for the next few Olympics, until the flame was being prepared to be lit in Beijing. Then it all went downhill again.

The surgeon’s knife was out. To fix a sinus complaint that allowed me to pick up any flu bug that was going. It also produced more of those headaches, when someone so much as uncorked a bottle of vino.

The solution was an operation. I was hesitant, until he explained that it would allow me to enjoy the odd wine tipple, without having to hide in a dark room the following day. Sign me up doc.

The procedure was done, just days before the 2008 Games began. So it was off to the couch again. To cheer the softballers in their final outing as Olympians. The sport was ditched, so we could all enjoy female boxing. Go figure.

A few differences to my suffering that time. Instead of an itch, I had several tonnes of cotton wadding up my snoz. I will spare you the finer, gory details. Needless to say, it was something of a horror movie when they produced the industrial pliers to remove it.

Which brings us to London. No dramas just yet. Although I do have a cough. I hear there’s a nasty bronchitis going around. TB even.  That would be just my luck. Getting sick, when there’s no softball to watch. I’ll keep you posted.