Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sweet sixteen

The call came last night. An anonymous number on my mobile phone that I didn't answer in time. Two hours later I checked the message bank. It was J, whose message sounded ominous. I knew deep inside before I rang her back that this wasn't going to be good news, and I suspected the worst.

M was the oldest, stubbornly post dates and refusing to be born despite curries, vigorous sex and all those other attempts to move things along, but at last she arrived to be named after her maternal grandmother. As a first child she bumbled along but at 13 months her development faltered and it quickly became obvious that something was wrong. A search for a diagnosis began, and the endless round of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and sign language, special schools and other interventions began. J and G struggled on, helped by J's mum and sister and a small group of dedicated friends. And into this family arrived two more kids, smart happy boys who fiercely loved and protected their bumbling big sister from the vagaries of a modern world.

Then M developed seizures, which took a long time and alot of medication to get under some sort of control. She entered her teenage years, with all the hormonal torment that entails, and the extra concerns that put on her parents. And she began to learn a new way to communicate, which was helping M to be less frustrated and dependent on others.

Last Tuesday she turned sixteen. A wonderful age, and she had a wonderful day at school and with friends before arriving home happy and heading off to bed. On Wednesday morning she was dead.

No-one expected it, (it appears she had a seizure), and it happened far too soon for J, who has only recently lost her dear mum, and her father a year or so before that. But M's life was a happy one, in a family that adored her, and had the financial means to provide her with good care. And M had a great capacity to do some really hilarious things, born out of her lack of understanding of acceptible norms.

Like lying on the floor open mouthed to let Hazel give her big sloppy pashes. Climbing up onto the roofrack of my 4WD and refusing to come down. This was during her climbing stage, I also remember her climbing up onto the shed and leaving a little warm brown memento up there. Finding my facecream and spreading it all over the living room floor like a piece of postmodern art. In fact she loved drawing, with anything, anywhere.

We'll all miss M, sweet sixteen, and endlessly kissed.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Deja vu

Last year I rediscovered my inner ski goddess, after a hiatus of more than 5 years whilst I'd engaged in scuba diving holidays on some of the most biodiverse tropical reefs of the world, not to mention my six and a half month sojourn through SE Asia. This year confirmed for me the incredible attraction of hurtling down a steep mountain only to climb back up and do it again! Bob described what keeps him skiing as that sudden acceleration at the start of a turn that's like a jet taking off. Others talk about making those first tracks in virgin snow, known as freshlines, for others it's the sheer joy of enjoying fresh snow, even better when it's powder, in a beautiful environment.

I'm not good enough yet to appreciate freshlines, but I do know what Bob means. But it's more than that.

I've been to New Zealand skiing 4 times. Twice I did a group tour visiting Mt Hutt, TC, Cardrona, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. These are the mainstream resorts on the South Island, but there's also numerous smaller commercial and club fields that extend from Arthurs Pass right down to Queenstown that rely on rope tows, t-bars and the notorious nutcracker (I've seen the bruises!!) to get you up the slopes. It's also pretty common in New Zealand to do a bit of walking to get to the top of a run, and back country touring is extremely popular. But when I decided to come to New Zealand last year there was only one choice: Treble Cone.

The first two times I came to TC they still had the t-bar in the Saddle, and it was a long traverse to get over to the chutes. I have fond memories of my second trip when I took a private lesson with Thierry, now the Mon-Thur bus driver but back then my ski instructor, who taught me to stop thinking, keep my head up and just feel my turns, as he led me relentlessly down those halfpipes time and time again. Lara, my instructor last year, taught me to breathe. Funny little detail that one, but quite useful!

What has me wanting to return again to TC is:

1. obviously the skiing. It's steep, challenging and relatively uncrowded, mainly because it doesn't have much beginner terrain, which keeps the riffraff away. Too many times have I been broadsided by out of control snowboarders on the slopes of Thredbo and Perisher, such that I get a bit nervous around a group of them. I'm hoping this paranoia can be lifted by a few more visits to TC, where the snowboarders are awesome riders, and a pleasure to watch doing their thing.

2. location, location, location! That view over the lake, from anywhere on the mountain, plus the views over the back country to Mt Aspiring from the summit and from the view point at the top of the Matukituki runs, is priceless. You get to ski all day surrounded by spectacular beauty!

3. the coffee. Seriously, it's really good coffee...

4. the people. Every year I make a few more friends amongst the locals, who are incredibly friendly and justifiably proud of their mountain. Nancy, who I skied with a bit last year, was unfortunately away overseas this time, but I expect I'll ski with her again next year. And hopefully with my new friends from this year. I also like that everyone's a bit daggy, there's no fashion parade going on here, unlike the pretentious mob that frequent Thredbo Village. Peter (one of the Friday schooldads) and I spent a bit of time chuckling about this, only for me to find out later just what Peter did for a living!

5. the town of Wanaka. Small, quaint, quiet and friendly, with all the facilities I need, plus the best cinema in the southern hemisphere. Those cookies are to die for!!

6. great instruction. I've always had lessons at TC, and I've always had great quality instructors. And my skiing has improved accordingly.

I was explaining all this to one of my friends, who noted the similarity to what it was like visiting Geraldton every year on windsurfing holidays. For five years I came here every year, made more and more friends each summer, and then eventually moved here. As did every other windsurfer in Geraldton, we're almost all blow-ins from elsewhere!

But that's where the similarity ends. No way am I moving to Wanaka!!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The secret to happiness

Well I'm not the Dalai Lama but I think I know one or two things about the subject.

I had an interesting talk with Jitka, one of the staff in the sports store I mostly frequent whilst in Wanaka, about friendliness. For sales people or people working in the hospitality industry it's part of their job, but for me it's part of my life. It's actually something I consciously do: I smile, I greet people, I make jokes with strangers and I try to genuinely feel compassion for my fellow beings. Now the important word here is genuine. I'm not being fake, I'm not trying to impress or play games, I really do want to be your friend, even if it's just to share a funny moment in time.

I started this habit some time after I left Sydney. In fact I remember that moment in time all too well when I flew back to Sydney mid windsurfing holiday to do a lucrative shift in Wollongong Hospital, spied the uptight drivers in their cars whilst I sat on a bus going somewhere, and said to myself: "Time to get outta this place". A few years later via 3 years in the NT, I'm ensconced on the beach at Drummonds, doing a job I am incredibly passionate about, and can't be happier. And when I return to Sydney for visits (not often!) my absolute favourite past time is to smile at people!!

Now this is what gets me: people are incredibly suspicious of people who smile at them or are friendly towards them. Obviously people who do this are either mad, on drugs, or crazy hippies. Or worse, emotionally needy! What people forget is that just maybe that person is happy, and wants to share a bit of it with you. Go on, try it right now, smile broadly and you just can't help but feel a buzz of the happy juices flowing.

Actually, there's some pretty good research confirming the positive effects of smiling and laughing on the psyche (I'm far too lazy to include links so feel free to google for them yourself). So it must be good for you! I've also found, learnt through my practice of meditation, that holding one's mouth in a gentle Buddha type smile (Mona Lisa does it too!), is as effective. And if you are feeling too stressed to smile? Just take a big breath, and let it out with the loudest deepest sigh you can make and VOILA!!! See how easy it is?

Another tip to happiness is the "live each day at a time" philosophy. If you don't spend time reliving the past or worrying about the future, but live in the moment, you haven't got much to upset you. Of course if you are hungry, have no job, no roof over your head or are in physical danger it might be a little hard to feel happy, but my travels to poor parts of the world reveal that probably what makes people most happy is their social wealth ie their connections to other people, not their material wealth. In fact, worrying about material wealth appears to be a recipe for unhappiness.

I'm going to add a caveat here, because I know those who know me may protest that it's easy for me to say these things when I am financially secure and have the ability to travel anywhere in the world on a whim, and engage in expensive sports like skiing, windsurfing and scuba diving. Sure, but that has never stopped me from being able to see the world through other people's eyes. I am incredibly lucky to have a huge dose of empathy ( I always cry in movies, and am sometimes moved to tears by the chaotic lives of my patients) which somehow allows me to learn from the many people I have met all over the world. And from the numerous couch surfers I host, who continue to enrich my life with their stories and experiences. Not to mention the incredible aboriginal people I work with and for, who have taught me a hell of a lot about social capital. One day I'm going to write about some of them.

I might also add that I am not always smiley and friendly. I can be a total grumpy bitch at times, but I'm working on it - that's where the meditation comes in. And I love spending time by myself, having never been a person who needs others around to make me happy. I never have got that idea, other people don't make you happy, it comes from within. And if you're happy, it feels great to share it.

Now I'm going to finish with an anecdote. Being a doctor, and an advocate of evidence based therapies, I just want to say that this is merely a story, a true one, to illustrate my point. In December 2008 I met a Dutch woman in northern Laos who told me her story. She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer, had the usual treatment, and a few years later it recurred, with spread all over her body and no hope of cure. Her doctors told her she had only months to live, so she and her husband went travelling with what time they had left. With so little time left, she made a conscious decision to live each day at a time. Every morning she got up and was thankful for being alive one more day.

Well day after day she did this, and began to feel better. So they travelled more widely, and she continued to feel healthier and healthier, and continued to live a day at a time. 18 months later she returned to see her doctor, who could find no evidence of the cancer that had ravaged her body. He was understandably amazed, and now that she was ostensibly cancer free, he could no longer give her a poor prognosis.

So here was her dilemma. With a limited future she had embarked on a day to day existence, now that that future was no longer limited should she plan for it? She actually asked my opinion on what I would do. I said I'd keep going, continue to live day by day and just enjoy the ride. She had, of course, also decided to do just that. And I'm sure she's still enjoying a quiet beer somewhere in this wide wonderful world.

So drink a toast to His Holiness, cause I'm pretty sure he knows a thing or two about happiness too!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Back in Paradise

It's hard to believe it's winter when you live here. After 2 weeks all rugged up, I returned to Geraldton, stripped down to tshirt, shorts and bare feet and went for a glorious walk along the beach with Hazel. This is the life!!The trip back was the usual horror: a walk through the rain from Wanaka Bakpaka to the busstop with too many bags and not enough hands, scenic bus ride to Queenstown Airport (gorgeous rainbows the whole way), quick checkin, board the plane, then spend three hours waiting on the tarmac as the wild winter front was blowing the wrong way for our plane to be able to take off. Found myself sitting next to Lauren, who had done the ladies' week course that I had had to cancel from, and spent the next six hours trying to work out where we knew each other from (both of us had found the other familiar on meeting earlier in the week) and discovered we'd both gone to the same kindergarten, though that isn't the connection. Strange world.

In Melbourne it was a mad scramble to collect luggage, clear customs and load onto the Perth connection. So sorry to the lady who I ran over with my trolley, it's bloody hard steering at speed at the worst of times, let alone with one arm in plaster. Huge sigh of relief once boarded, and 4 hours later arrive in Perth to be picked up by Lil and Hans whose home I crash in for the night. Next morning Hans drives me up to Scarborough to pick up my car. Scarborough has far too many stop signs and roundabouts, my god I was happy to get onto the open road and not have to do all those gear changes. Not painful, just plain awkward. 4 and a half hours later I am home at last and giving my girl a big cuddle.The garden is luscious, with lots of big juicy extra greenery which needs pulling out to let the other veges flourish. I always say Gero winters are more like English summers, warm days and cool nights, and glorious rain. Currently it's blue skies and temps in the mid 20s, but all the water tanks are full so there's been a bit of precipitation while I've been away. The broccoli is nowhere near ready, so I suspect that that'll be doomed by the warm weather and those pesky aphids, but I've buckets of Tuscan cabbage, bok choy, snow peas, tomatoes, beetroot, salad greens, eggplant and soon zucchini. Nothing like picking fresh produce straight from the garden to the kitchen!!I'm really chuffed to see that the fig has started to put out leaves, as I was worried I'd bought a dud. I am soooo looking forward to fresh figs next year. If I manage to keep it alive through the coming summer that is!! The mango, however, appears doomed, though the pawpaw is happily fruiting, and the mulberry, after being heavily pruned this year, is putting out lots of new shoots.

Great mirth at work on seeing my cast. I'd promised them I wouldn't break a leg - delivered!! Bertel says I'm too old to ski (like as if!!!) and dear Noreen brought me in a delicious Indian curry so I wouldn't have to cook. The best thing about a broken arm: no pap smears!! Fanny checks are an occupational hazard for a female GP, so the chance to get out of them for 4 weeks is fantastic!! Email to reception: please do not book me for any procedures, eg pap smears, Implanon etc. Yippee!!

Bad things about having an arm in a cast: I'm pretty helpless regarding doing any heavy work around the house. Came into sharp relief yesterday when I discovered my car tyre was flat and there was no way I could change it. Especially not on my brute of a 4x4! The boys at work helped out but it doesn't feel good realising that if that had happened on the drive up from Perth I would have been f$%^&ed!!

Am also upset that I can't get back on the bike. Certainly not the road bike, but might pull the mountain bike down and see if I can get my hand around its handlebar. My god, I might have to take up running, or join a gym!! Can still do some yoga though. Can't go swimming....

Should have called in sick and just kept skiing in New Zealand. At least I can do that with a broken arm!!