Thursday, October 23, 2014


The two people who have had the biggest impact on my life are my mother, and Gough Whitlam. And this week Gough died at the tender age of 98. Apparently he was quoted refuting the rumour that the reason for his longevity was that the Almighty didn't want competition!!

My mother had travelled the world before she met and shacked up with my father, a separated but not divorced man, and had 4 children out of wedlock. This was the early 1960s. In those days divorce was impossible without proving blame, so my father had to wait for his first wife to die. Meanwhile, my mother pretended to be married, and continued to work once us kids were at school. Her income was always more than dad's, as she was a trained draftsperson - a qualification that had been sorely won due to blatant antagonism towards the female students by the lecturers at her technical college. She survived because the male students were thrilled to have female students in their class, and protected the girls from most of the bullying. Even so, few women finished the course and when she was employed she was called a "tracer" because women weren't allowed to be called draftsmen, even though her job was the same as the men. For my mother, this sort of treatment just acted as encouragement, and she simply outperformed all the men by miles. She's quite proud of some of the innovative designs she implemented during her time with Melbourne City Council town planning, though she admits she may have "borrowed" them from her time working overseas...

I grew up in Canberra, and one of my earliest political memories was the "It's Time" political campaign of 1972. And then Gough was swept into power and everything changed overnight.

Suddenly women's issues actually became a topic that was discussed. Gough appointed an Office for Women, he legislated equal pay for women, divorce laws were changed to preclude fault, and welfare reform supported the homeless and single mothers. He brought in free health care and tertiary education.

I doubt my parents could have afforded a university education for their children. We didn't have much money, my parents lived in rental properties, we made our own clothes and frequented op shops. We never went on any posh holidays, mostly we went to Melbourne for Xmas to visit mum's folks, and occasionally we went on a car holiday and stayed in a caravan somewhere. There was never spare cash for school excursions, though we did do guides and scouts and we were all into outdoor activities like rock climbing, abseiling, caving and bushwalking. Back in the days when they weren't equipment heavy sports.

I got to study medicine, for free, because of Gough. In fact the year after I graduated they began the long slide towards reintroduction of fees with a precursor to HECS. I was happy I'd got through in the prescribed five years and not inconvenienced my parents too much.

I get paid the same as my male colleagues. I'm also respected as an equal. Over the years most areas of medicine that may have been dominated by male doctors have been infiltrated by women. But we still have to physically have those babies, so female doctors don't always rise to the top with such frequency as the men. But here I am in WA, and our newest public hospital is named after a woman. (Incidentally, I met Fiona Stanley at a dinner party once, and spent the entire evening chatting away to her and her husband before the penny dropped!)

So, back to Gough. Well my parents got married, I went off to university and subsequently, after many trials and tribulations, ended up working in Aboriginal Health. I've been to Wattie Creek, I've met Vincent Lingiari's family, and I've worked for the Gurindji people at Kalkaringi in their health centre. I understand what connection to land means for Aboriginal people, and I have huge respect for that great man who understood too, and had the means to restore that birthright.

Gough's passing this week has caused a huge outpouring of grief and reflection, from all sides of politics, because he changed Australia irrevocably. We changed our national anthem, we conferred our own honours (not English dames and knights) and we turned away from  narrow minded conservative thinking. And we got Triple Jay (double jay back then). And when Gough's financially incompetent government got the arse, in one of the most controversial political events ever, the next big man, Malcolm Fraser, continued many of those reforms and saw them through. Fraser axed free health care though, and we had to wait for Hawke to bring it back.

I'm almost convinced that Gough's done it deliberately. We'll be singing the praise of those awesome reforms of the early 70s for a week or two and people might suddenly see how far backwards our current conservative government is trying to take us. People might realise that things they take for granted have only been around for 40 years, and that they could potentially be taken away by the evil Abbott Government.

Gough went to my high school. Apparently he was kicked out for being too smart! A friend of mine was in a band that wrote a song about him. Actually, they named their band after him. He shaped all our lives and our futures. 

RIP big man.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Forward planning

I am actually pretty hopeless at living one day at a time. I'm always dreaming about what to do next, even when I haven't completed current projects. Ahem: great wall of Drummonds???

You will be happy to know that I have commenced further work on the wall, however am waiting for more supplies of cans to fill in the dimples. I've lots of bottles, but some lightweight cans make great filler where the bottles don't quite fit. Unfortunately my neighbours got sick of me not picking up their saved cans and took them to the recycling place, so I have only myself to blame for this oversight. One of my colleagues has a serious pepsi max addiction, so I've also put him on the case.

I've been busy reinforcing the chook run - making the fences tall enough to keep out foxes and keep in recalcitrant chickens. So hopefully, I'll soon have my own eggs again.

And, I've been planning my exit strategy....

Sure I'm going skiing in Japan next year, which will be an awesome adventure but not likely to be a yearly event due to distances and cost (I'll likely spend in one month what I usually spend in 3 months in NZ). And I won't be earning big bucks after June either...

So come July, it'll be back to NZ and Wanaka for 3 months of skiing at Treble Cone, with maybe a backcountry ski tour as well.  I'm going to save on accommodation by working at the hostel whilst I'm there, meaning I'll want to get value for money out of my ski days, unlike my slack half days of last season.

Then in October I'll return to Oz and plan to walk the Bibbulman Track. This is a 970km walking track from Perth to Albany which takes about 2 months to do at a leisurely pace, with town stopovers, and staying mostly in huts enroute. Although not technically difficult, long stretches are in wilderness areas so carrying enough food and water is the main issue. I plan to do this trek to get myself walking fit, before contemplating other, more technical, walks.

Long distance walking isn't for everyone, nor is spending a lot of time alone in the wilderness. For me, both these aspects are a huge draw, something to look forward to rather than fear. But it will involve quite a bit of trip preparation, and dusting off my map reading and compass skills. I've already started the preparation, and since I have most of the equipment already it's more about beginning the process of determining how much food to bring and where to arrange food drops. My food dehydrator motor died recently, so I guess I'll need to get a new one...

After 2 months of walking I'll return to Geraldton and spend the summer windsurfing.

Although I have some ideas for what to do next, I think I'll just plan that far ahead for now. In the meantime I need to crack on doing the house and garden chores to make the place ready for tenants. And concentrate on getting ski fit for Japan!!

So much to do, so little time....

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Don't blame me, I'm not the problem

I don't normally talk about work. Scratch that, I never talk about work, but today I am making an exception. Because I think my profession is losing the battle against chronic disease, cancer and obesity. And this is why.

1. People go to doctors for advice and cures. Often they don't wish to be told that the way for them to feel better, to be more healthy is to make lifestyle changes. They would rather take a pill and continue business as usual. Of course this is not everyone, but the vast majority of those seeking help from doctors do fit into this category. If they actually want to make lifestyle change, they select health professionals who can help them with this, they join gyms, see dieticians, buy and cook healthy food, spend on naturopathy, yoga, all that positive feel good stuff, which is extremely effective. They don't come to doctors for diet pills.

I like to think I am a doctor who tries to motivate patients to make lifestyle change. I spend a lot of time working with this issue individually, but my patients often don't have the educational, emotional or financial resources required to break bad eating habits. I like to think I'm at least not contributing to the problem by prescribing unnecessary medication, but I'm not ever going to take credit for a patient who does manage to change their life around. It's their victory, not mine, I'm merely an enabler (occasionally).

2. I can't compete against the golden arches and other big fast food franchises. We now, in a town of 38,000 people, have 2 McDonald's and I've heard there are plans to build a third! Apparently our Maccas is one of the best performing, i.e. turnover, Maccas in Australia, and yes, try and spot a person over 45 who isn't obese in this town, along with countless children and younger people as well. Fast food is everywhere, it's poisonous, addictive and us in the health profession are helpless against the tide of oversupply, aggressive advertising to children, and just plain convenience.

OK, I don't have kids, but why oh why would you poison your children? Why???

3. Alcohol consumption is getting out of control. It isn't just the young who are binge drinking to within an inch of serious illness, it's everyone, and particularly women. Have you noticed how many memes there are on Facebook supporting the notion that it's OK to have a good drink of wine at the end of a hard day. This is subtle and pervasive. My advice: go for a walk, do some exercise. Don't self medicate. Oh, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a selection:

And how about this one? Might as well drink a bottle of wine a night through December....

Not OK. Not funny. Brainwashing.

4. The way that the Medicare system is structured makes it really difficult for people with low finances to access resources to help them. If you're well educated with a well paid job, you're likely to be much skinnier than someone on a pension. And have less health problems. (BTW, no one use Gina Rhinehart as an exception, she may have lots of money but no education and thick as 2 bricks, you can't be that obese and live a long healthy life). The amount of allied health care a person can get through the public health system to prevent them getting an expensive chronic disease is dismal. There's a bit more once you get a chronic disease but it's still inadequate. Better to spend it on bypass surgery and renal dialysis? I think not!

As a doctor I can't buy and cook patients healthy whole foods (that by the way don't cost lots of money what a load of hogwash), I can't prevent them from driving through MacDonalds drive through and ordering poison for them and their family, I can't compete against huge food and soft drink conglomerates who peddle poison by using misleading advertising showing pictures of healthy young people having the time of their lives. I also don't find it funny, or amusing, or kind of cute when memes like the above are mindlessly shared around social media, pushing a message of alcohol over consumption and self medication that is plainly unhealthy and contributing to increased cancer risk. Including breast cancer risk.

No medication I prescribe can counteract the poison that is refined sugar that people shove in their mouths daily. That they are hopelessly addicted to.

I'm not the problem, and to be honest, I can't provide the solution either.

I can give advice, provide support, direct people towards resources, but only people can change. But no pill or quick fix is out there. Patients have lap bands and then just drink milkshakes and high calorie shit that they've blended so they can get it down past the band. Go figure hey?? Most people who take diet pills end up gaining twice as much weight when they stop.

You gotta own the problem, stop the poison and change your lifestyle. No quick fix, one step at a time, no instant gratification, and lots of hard work.

A word here on fat and obesity. If you eat healthy food, and engage in regular exercise, are aerobically fit and do some weight bearing exercise within your regimen, then your weight itself is no big deal. It's what you put in your mouth that matters, and whether you maintain your fitness. So if you are skinny and eat shit, smoke and do no exercise, you're fucked. If you're fat and eat healthy food and exercise daily for more than 30 minutes that makes you a bit sweaty, well your beautiful luscious body is a big healthy one. So fuck off skinny bitches who eat crap and put shit on healthy buxom lasses.

Obesity is a different ballgame. If you eat healthy and exercise regularly, you might be fat but you won't be obese. And with so much obesity around, your fat is the new skinny. Aside from those chain smoking biarches and triathlon fitness junkies. (word of caution, too much exercise doesn't confer longevity, too much oxidative stress too often is also harmful)

Obesity isn't genetic. Your mum is fat cause she learnt bad eating habits from her parents. You're fat because you learnt bad eating habits from yours. You can change that, the research now proves it. And all those "hormonal" causes, all dietary related. Eat proper food, food that comes from an animal or a plant, not from a factory, is barely processed, and cook things from scratch. All you need is a recipe, it really is that blindingly simple.

If you want to change. If you want to own the problem and the solution.

I'd also like fast food taxed, bans on advertising of any food or beverage at all during children's television hours (newsflash: parents decide what their children eat, why do kids need these ads??) and some serious debate around restricting the number of available fast food outlets. We've done this successfully with cigarettes, it's time to put the boot into the fast food and beverage, and alcohol, industry.

If we dare.

But don't blame me and my colleagues for not fixing your health problems, we're outnumbered and out manoeuvred folks!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I am struggling. I'm not really in a good place at the moment. It isn't helped by my coffee machine breaking down and me going through coffee withdrawal. I had some decaf in the freezer but that of course didn't help, so this arvo I bought a cheap coffee bean grinder and I'm back loading up with caffeine again so the headache should start to recede soon.

No, my struggle is work. I'm beginning to feel overwhelmed again, beginning to find dealing with annoying persistent colleagues just too hard. I'm doing jobs I'm not really paid to do and although I don't feel under appreciated like I did before, I am resenting having no support.

I don't think work is the cause, it's just that I can feel some of my anxiety symptoms returning and I know I have to do something about it. I think the recent stress over selling my investment property may have been a trigger, and not getting my big social fix of fun and friends in Wanaka this year may also have contributed. I'm not very sociable here in Gero, it's always such an effort to head into town in the evening to overspend at venues, so I don't. Plus, after 3 days of continuous interaction at work, the introvert in me needs solitary confinement!

I also attended a course on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on the weekend, and offered myself up as a guinea pig to help demonstrate a technique called EMDR. I was warned that there might be repercussions and that I may need further treatment. I was working on my inability to climb ladders after my accident 25 years ago when I almost died. Apparently what your brain does during EMDR isn't fully understood, but it was suggested I do a bit more meditation in the next 2 weeks and if concerned, seek professional help. Yeah, scary hey??

So it is possible that my emotional state at present is due to the shit going on in my head.

Or that I'm seriously addicted to caffeine.

I'll just finish this cup of coffee then go hit the yoga room....

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Living for now

Some people may think that my wander lust and my obsession with my garden are an insoluble conflict.

They aren't to me, they are all part of the master plan.

Yes I am an insatiable travel planner and dreamer, obsessed with maps and a mad devourer of travel literature. But for me, there has to be a backup plan.

I'm not some girl in her 20's with a university degree and a disillusionment with the self serving ambition for possessions built on debt and consumerism, which I totally agree BTW, is a scourge on this earth and is fuelling over consumption and environmental degradation. So yeah, I applaud those idealistic youngsters who set up careers as digital nomads and travel the world. Often these travel bloggers sell up everything they have when they embark on long term travel, figuring that possessions are not only unnecessary and a burden, but somehow extemporary to the freedom of travelling the world with no commitments. Sure, not everyone sells up, but it's certainly a common theme I see.

This may well be fine when you are in your mid 20's, maybe even through to your mid 40's, and when one follows travel bloggers for some time, you notice that they inevitably settle down somewhere at some stage. And the place they settle in usually is predicated by the low cost of living, because they've opted out of the mainstream, and hence the ability to live in the expensive west long term.

There's even an entire industry catering to long term retirement as an expat in cheaper countries, and yes, many governments in the developing world are very eager to welcome retirees, with conditions of course!

I have friends who've taken early retirement, who have sold their possessions and now have no equity. And as property prices have increased they can no longer afford to buy back in, especially as their age reduces their likelihood of getting many years of gainful employment, and hence a loan. Other friends, however, have wisely kept their primary home, knowing they have something to fall back on should age or illness reduce their ability to continue to travel.

Some people, of course, never have that option, and retiring within the western world will mean their later years spent in penury, counting pennies and hoping the doctor doesn't prescribe them another, expensive, medication. This is a damn good reason to relocate to a cheaper country, and many baby boomers are doing just that.

So I'd like to keep my options open. I'm yet to find anywhere else in the world that I enjoy the lifestyle more than where I live now. Why should I reduce my options to a point where I can no longer live in the west because it costs too much? As much as I love to travel, my little piece of paradise at Chez Drummonds is my home for life.

Given this, it makes sense to invest in creating the bones of a good garden. It doesn't matter that in the years that I'm away plants will die, that I may have to start all over. It doesn't matter because I take such joy from creating it, right here, right now.

I'm not leaving tomorrow, in fact I'm not even sure when I'm heading off on "the big trip". I know I'm heading to NZ again in July for the ski season, and I'd like to spend the summer back in Oz windsurfing, and then after that, who knows. But right now, is right now, and growing and eating healthy food is really important to me, so I invest in my garden.

The future is ephemeral, I refuse to live for tomorrow when today is where it's at. Whether I'm growing seasonal veges or planting fruit trees for future crops it's really all for the same reason. I get incredible joy and satisfaction from just pottering in the garden, whether it's building a wall or a gate, staking a tomato plant, collecting snails, or weeding and making compost. Listening to interesting podcasts, or the myriad birdcalls, watching the stumpy tail lizards crawl through the mulberry leaf mulch whilst I'm stuffing my face with succulent purple berries, planning the next stage of the great wall of Drummonds or hauling posts for the chook run resurrection, I'm having a ball. The only thing that really gets in the way of this enjoyment is having to go to work.

Ah well, that will be over soon.

Nine more months!