Thursday, June 28, 2007


Ah, movie aliens. As a general rule they are much like 'Big Brother' contestants: they behave in an offensive manner, inspire fear and loathing in the general population, and appear to be made of cheap plastic.

The Eye Creatures in 'Attack of the The Eye Creatures'* are no exception. They may be blessed with an abundance of eyes, but when it comes to invading the Earth these creatures are remarkably dense. In the spirit of interspecies cooperation, I'd like to offer them a few pointers from my comparatively extensive interplanetary invasion experience.

1. When invading another planet, take more than one spaceship. You never know when a spare might come in handy.

2. Before commencing your invasion, ask yourself: is it wisest to land my spaceship in the middle of nowhere then blunder about in the dark looking for random yokels to kill by hand, or should I just nuke the major cities from orbit?

3. Make sure your spaceship can take the rigours of, say, having a blowtorch trained on it for a few seconds.

4. Try to re-engineer your DNA so that you don't explode when subjected to any light source more intense than a glow-in-the-dark super ball.

5. If you can't re-engineer your DNA, try wearing a protective suit.

6. If you're fresh out of protective suits, would it kill you to put on a pair of pants? We're a sensitive species.

7. Given that you move slower than continental drift, you may like to invest in some guns before attempting to invade the Earth.

8. If you can't afford the best and brightest soldiers to include in your death squads, at least make sure that they're canny enough to outsmart these two:

9. Make sure your invasion plans are drawn up by some of your greatest military minds. It'd be embarrassing if your legions of conquest were outwitted by a bunch of horny teenagers with barely enough collective intelligence to dial a rotary phone.

10. If your planet needs women, please take the cast of 'Desperate Housewives'. Trust us; they're the best we've got. Would we lie to you?

*The film was originally titled 'The Eye Creatures', but a studio executive obviously wanted a punchier title, so he added 'Attack of the' in front. Hence 'Attack of the The Eye Creatures'. And thus the level of attention to detail was set for the entire film.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


The diligent reader will recall the pile of New Guinea artefacts I acquired some months ago, and mentioned here and here. In addition to these New Guinea materials from the 1960s and 1970s, I also received a fascinating booklet about Australian Aboriginals from 1958.

aboriginal book page 1

'Aboriginal Tribes and Customs' was volume 4 in the Sanitarium Children's Library, printed on thick, cheap paper in three colours (including a lurid shade of orange). It was intended that children collect pictures from their boxes of Weet-Bix and cornflakes and stick them in the appropriate spot. Obviously the child who owned this particular book had a very modern attention span, since only one picture, #37, has been included.

As you'd expect, the text has the sort of condescending, anthropological tone that would cause Michael Mansell, if he read it, to blow an artery. As Aboriginals weren't even recognised as Australian citizens until 1967, this is hardly surprising.

aboriginal book page 3

It's kind of embarrassing, but fortunately far enough in the past for my generation to disassociate ourselves from it. However I find it interesting that this sort of reeking propaganda is still foisted onto impressionable school children. The only difference is that instead of patronisingly referring to Aboriginals as a "simple nomadic people" with a "primitive society", modern booklets teach that Aboriginals are saintly, earth-nurturing beings who lived in utopian harmony until the white devils appeared and smothered them with Playstations and syphilis. Or, you know, words to that effect.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Winter is a cold, dark, depressing time, even here in the comparative warmth and sunniness of Western Australia. That's why I decided to shake my fist at winter in its longest, darkest depths and hold a Winter Solstice Soiree Musicale.

I dug through my address book and managed to scrounge up a poet, two jazz musicians, a classical pianist and half a dozen other people who could be relied upon to know the difference between John Donne and John Grisham. Only one of them had ever been to a soiree before, and I think some of them were a little frightened by the prospect. But I badgered them until they agreed to take part, and when Friday night rolled around I had a dozen talented friends in my living room, lulled into a suitable frame of mind by vol au vents, spring rolls and some hot, fragrant mulled wine.

winter soiree 07

Once the mulled wine kicks in, a soiree is a little like a freeform karaoke session. The jazz musicians set the tone with some snappy numbers, including the ever versatile 'Favourite Things'. The poet read an evocative 19th century ode to the sailors who don't survive a shipwreck, and the pianist gave us a gentle rendition of 'Fur Elise'. I read two short stories, one in the style of Mickey Spillane, the other in the style of PG Wodehouse. Then before I knew it even people who hadn't been asked to perform were shyly pulling poems and songs out of their pockets and stepping up to centre stage (otherwise known as the living room rug). Sometimes the most interesting performances are the ones you don't expect.

Once we were all soireed out, we adjourned for rich chocolate cherry coconut cake and hot chocolate. We were so warmed and de-wintered it's a wonder we didn't fast forward to mid-spring there and then.

So, I think it's safe to say that the soiree was a big success. The only downside to the whole affair was the feedback I received over the next few days. When I saw my friends, they'd invariably fix me with an astonished gaze and say, "You know, I really enjoyed your party on Friday night," in the same bewildered tone they might use to proclaim that they'd suddenly discovered that they enjoyed getting hit over the head with a croquet mallet.

I sort of feel sorry for the third person who did this, since they got the full force of my response:

"Yes, I am capable of hosting a decent party! Don't sound so freakin' surprised!"

I wonder if their hearing has returned yet?

Monday, June 25, 2007


When it comes to manly movies, you can’t get much manlier than Mad Max II. It’s core narrative - a lone warrior fighting overwhelming odds and not being overwhelmed, but instead opening a can of whelm-ass himself – is the basis for all of the great action stories, from Beowulf to Rambo.

So given that it’s such an icon of masculinity, why are the villains in Mad Max II so, well, gay?

I don’t mean gay in the ‘lame’ sense. I mean literally. Mad Max is basically fighting a large group of men who are gayer than the target audience for a performance of ‘Mama Mia’ in which Kylie Minogue, Sarah Jessica Parker and Megan Mullally play the lead roles, and at which free Cosmopolitans and DVDs of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ are given away during the interval.

Don’t believe me? Let us review the evidence.

Exhibit A – Lord Humungous

Our chief villain is a fully waxed, steroid-abusing Swede in a metal gimp mask and a studded leather bondage harness, with a name that wouldn’t look out of place in the credits of a fantasy-themed gay porno. You do the math.

Exhibit B – Wez

Wez, Humungous’ second banana, wears eyeliner and backless chaps and rides around on a motorcycle with a skinny blonde twink riding pillion. There’s no subtext here; the character is explicitly homosexual, and apparently acting out his feelings against an oppressive homophobic society by screaming a lot and slitting throats. If only he’d channelled his negative energies into floristry.

Exhibit C – Pink Guy

Before he meets the business end of a flamethrower, Pink Guy drives around in a customised hot pink muscle car. That might not be too bad, but he’s dyed his beard hot pink to match the car! He looks like a flamboyant, drag-racing Santa.

Exhibit D – Police Guy

Police Guy gets around in a scavenged police cruiser, and appropriately enough has costumed himself in aviator glasses, a silver helmet and cut down leathers. Remind you of anyone?

How exactly is it, I wonder, that such a bunch of flamers came to be the Scary Army of the Apocalypse in this scenario? My own theory is that they were a Gay Pride parade that took a wrong turn during the collapse of civilisation, ran out of road and then turned feral. That would certainly explain the preponderance of motorcycles (basically dykes on bikes, minus the dykes) and the outlandish vehicles (stripped down parade floats, I suspect). I’d bet good money that if you carefully examined the scenes left on the cutting room floor, you’d see a faded rainbow sticker on the back of Humungous’ car, and an old Barbara Streisand CD in his glovebox.

Friday, June 22, 2007



Well, thank goodness that's over. Another rousing rendition of the CIA Company Song ("Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers, appropriately enough, but those bastards insisted on playing the David Hasselhoff version) and I'd have garrotted myself with the monitor cable.

The monitor was removed, but further to the CIA's plans for Blandwagian domination I also had to undergo an EEG (electroencephalogram) yesterday. This basically consisted of having my skull measured, getting a multitude of tiny sensors glued to my scalp, and being forced to open and close my eyes, breathe at different rates, and watch light flickering at varying cycles for half an hour. Sheesh! All it needed was some orange overalls and a serving of mustard dill baked fish and I could have been in Guantanamo Bay!

At the end of my scan the technician allowed me to see my results... which were basically a dozen vaguely wavy lines on a screen.

"So is this good?" I asked.

"It's looks pretty normal," she replied with a shrug.

"It doesn't look like my brain was doing much."

"Let me show you something," she said, and she called up another file. This once had jagged, chaotic lines lurching almost at random across the screen.

"Hey, this one's much more exciting!" I said.

"Trust me, you don't want one that looks like this," she said, with a sad little sigh. "This was not a well brain."

So if nothing else, I learnt that having an Action Brain = Bad News. I always suspected as much.


From the front page of today's Australian:

JOHN Howard will seize control of Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, banning alcohol and pornography and using the military to attack the "national emergency" of alcohol-fuelled sexual abuse of children.

The Left have been warning us for years about John Howard's megalomaniacal desire for his own personal fiefdom, and now it's happened. If only we'd listened!

Our only hope now is that the Federal Government will step in to stop him before he becomes Australia's own Hank Scorpio.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


For those of you interested in my antique hack, here are some pictures:

CD rack (touched up)

Hmmm... it looks a little girly from this angle. I suspect that this is because you can't see the enormous horse skull just off the right edge.

inside the cabinet (mwhahahahahaha!)

If you're thinking, "Well, that's a fairly meagre MST3K collection", I should add that there's another fifty or sixty episodes on the other side of the cabinet.



Dang it! I knew this was going to happen. A few scant hours after I get this Borg implant attached to me, I start getting not-so-subliminal messages from the CIA.


But oddly enough I seem to be getting a little electonic leakage from other CIA message systems. Just in the last hour I've learnt that visitors must sign in at the reception desk at Langley, there's a white '87 Mercury Topaz blocking a delivery bay in the east car park at the Pentagon, and apparently someone named Sherry is having a birthday party in the 4th Floor Conference Room at 10.30 tomorrow morning.


I'm also picking up some interesting classified chatter. Apprently Karl Rove is really a Decepticon from the planet Chaar, and if you press him in exactly the right place he transforms into a Winnebago.

There's more in that vein, but it may be more than my life's worth to spill the beans. Let's just say that if you ever have the opportunity to feed Dick Cheney after midnight, don't.


Grrrrr. Only 1 hour, 56 minutes and 32 seconds to go.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007



Sicko (Addendum)

As many of you will know, I had a recent unforeseen stay in hospital. They finally let me out after three days, but as part of the conditions for releasing me, the hospital insisted that I undergo two further tests as an outpatient. The first of these was the fitting of a Holter monitor for 24 hours, which I had done earlier today.

The monitor itself is slightly larger and heavier than a pack of cards, and it sits in a little protective case in my pocket. A heavy cable comes out of it and splits into seven colour-coded wires, which snake up through the front of my shirt and attach to seven sensors on my chest. The machine measures... er... something heart-ish. To be honest they didn't really discuss it with me, and I didn't receive a pamphlet with a title like "So You're Hooked Up to a Giant Music-less iPod For Reasons That Haven't Been Adequately Explained". All the monitor itself tells me is the current time and date, with a countdown to its removal. Frankly it could be doing anything. Maybe it's a secret CIA surveillance device... although traditionally their technology has been a little less obtrusive than this.

Still, one can't be too careful. If my posts suddenly start extolling the virtues of conformity and obedience to the goverment, take them with a grain of salt.

23 hours, 25 minutes and 32 seconds to go.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I spent most of my Sunday doing an antique hack, which is like an Ikea hack only not with furniture from Ikea. This sort of DIY interior design has also unkindly been called frankenfurniture... but only by me about the mad abominations of other people. My work is of course sublime in its grace and craftsmanship.

A few weeks ago I bought an old art deco wardrobe from a junk shop, and I've been converting it into a cabinet for all of my CDs and DVDs. At first I installed four shelves, but somehow, despite the fact that this cabinet was wider than my old CD rack, I could barely fit them all in. So on Sunday I made another two shelves, and squeezed the existing ones closer together, so that I have enough space for the 350 CDs and 100 DVDs I want to store in there.

However, I've come across two tiny flaws in an otherwise brilliant design:

1. The fixed mirror in the centre makes accessing the middle of the shelves really, really difficult.

2. Like a lot of inexpensive furniture from the first half of the 20th century, the wardrobe is made from soft pine and fairly thin plywood. 350 CDs weigh approximately 30kgs, and the shelves and the DVDs add another 30kgs... all pressing down on flimsy veneers and lackadaisical carpentry. I've already noticed that the top of the wardrobe appears to be a couple of centimetres narrower than the bottom, as the weight pulls the sides inward. I keep worrying that I'm going to come home one day soon and find the whole thing collapsed in on itself, probably taking out my new stereo, my vintage lava lamp, some antique crockery and The Only Things That Make Life Worth Living (also known as my MST3K collection) at the same time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


This is a very interesting map; it renames the individual states of the US after countries with which they share a GDP. Thus we can see that the burgeoning economy of California equals that of France, while poor old New Hampshire can only manage a Bangladesh.

I'm rather mortified, however, that Australia's wealth only equals that of Ohio. Ohio? What the hell does Ohio produce, other than cows, Drew Carey and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

This will not do. I will not stand idly by and allow some dull Midwestern oaf of a state to steal our economic thunder. On behalf of my great nation I declare WAR on Ohio! Don't worry, fellow Australians; we outnumber them two to one, and frankly if they all look like Jim Jarmusch we should be able to take them down without raising a sweat.

While Australia and Ohio indulge in a little Mutually Assured Destruction, the rest of you may like to take comfort in the fact that, although the US economy eclipses that of anywhere else, they're still lagging behind us in some other key areas. You only need to note Maine's spelling of 'Morocco' to see this.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Try typing "50 things to do before you die" into Google, and you open up a whole world of inanity.

At least half of the items on these lists could be lumped together under the heading, "Release tons of carbon into the atmosphere, erode fragile environments and trample over native cultures by visiting a whole bunch of 'exotic' places just because some vapid list told you you had to". Yep, that's right... stomp around Machu Picchu, snap souvenirs off the Great Barrier Reef, do your bit to erode the pyramids, clutter up the streets in Pamplona and haul your fat arse up the side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You wild-living legend you.

Another quarter could be lumped together under the heading, "Piss off some animal which is just trying to get along with its life". Because it's, like, so vitally important that you annoy dolphins, irritate whales, harangue the great apes and test the patience of sharks.

And most of the rest would be covered by, "Do something that is six kinds of stupid just because someone did it once in a famous movie, song or TV show". Let's face it, this is the only reason why someone would travel down Route 66, ride a Vespa around Rome, sing in the rain, hang about the front of Tiffany's scoffing a bagel, or drive too fast down a hill in San Francisco. If you must do something just because a song told you to, be a little bit original and go stab a woman named Delilah. Go on; Tom Jones and I dare you.

If you still think that these lists have some sort of merit, may I offer this list from my own experience, which I hope will put you off doing anything more dramatic than regrouting your bathroom tiles.

5 Things To Do Before You Die That I Have Done, And Which Didn't Suddenly Grant Meaning To My Life

Swim with dolphins
Dolphins are not mystical. Dolphins are not life-affirming. They are fine creatures, as creatures go, but undeserving of the massive fuss that surrounds them. Listen up, people! Just because dolphins' mouths curl up slightly at the sides doesn't mean that they're happy! It means that they hinge more effectively! Quit anthropomorphising them, dammit!

See the Aurora Borealis
Almost all of these dimwitted lists come from people in the northern hemisphere, so it's not surprising that they assume that the Northern Lights are the only lights in town. There is, however, a little thing called the Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights - exactly the same phenomenon, only in the southern hemisphere. I saw them once back in the 90s. They were pretty cool, but only because you don't see them every day. A good sunset is far cooler.

Climb a mountain
Pike's Peak, December 2000. Drove to the top in a Chrysler Voyager. Saw a marmot.

Visit Paris
Well, I passed through Paris on my way elsewhere. While there I temporarily lost my passport in Charles de Gaulle airport, only to discover that I'd left it on the counter at Baskin Robbins. True story.

Drive a luxury sports car
I once drove a friend's Mercedes Benz 280SLK convertible, which cost more than my house. He told me it suited me and that I should buy one. I told him to shut the hell up.

If you've done anything on a 50 Things list and want to warn the rest of us off doing it, let us know in comments. If it stops just one more person from banging on about the magic of Uluru, it'll be worth it.


I'm not a big believer in omens, but I'm starting to suspect that someone was warning me not to come to work today.

It was a lovely morning, warm and fresh and sunny. I was scooting along Riverside Drive at top speed, idly glancing at the gleaming black sports car overtaking me, when a sudden blur in front of me whipped my attention back to my own lane. I had just enough time to see a fishbowl-sized piece of glass plummet down the last metre or so before it hit the road and exploded.


Fortunately for me, I am a dullard. I have the alert, finely tuned mind of a lizard lying on a warm rock. By the time my mind had registered that a FREAKIN' STREET LAMP had just smashed across my path, and tried to engage my "GAAAH! PANIC!" response, my long-suffering body had already swerved my scooter around the skittering debris without slowing, and I was halfway up the next block.

If I'd been travelling fractionally faster, this half-inch thick piece of glass would have hit me. If that in itself hadn't killed me, being thrown off my scooter at top speed probably would have. And if by chance it didn't, being run over by another commuter would have finished the job.

I rang Western Power, who maintain the lighting along that particular road, and made my complaint, since FREAKIN' STREET LAMPS shouldn't fall off for no apparent reason and nearly hit people. Unfortunately Western Power's complaints system doesn't appear to make any distinction between minor quibbles and serious safety issues, so my complaint has probably just been lost in a sea of mundane gripes, ie:

11:31am - Woman complained that her streetlight is too bright and is keeping her cat Simon awake.

11.32am - Man complained that the dark green paint used on lamp posts clashes with the colour of his Audi.

11:33am - Man complained that he was nearly hit by FREAKIN' STREET LAMP that fell into traffic for no apparent reason.

11.34am - Man complained that streetlights produce too many greenhouse gases and we should only travel during daylight hours, in Toyota Priuses, while listening to lectures by Al Gore.

11.35am - Woman complained that her streetlight is too dim and her cat Anthony can't see where he's going.

Of course now when I travel home I'll be so busy keeping an eye on the streetlights that I'll crash into a tree, or a pedestrian, or a slow-moving Toyota Prius. I'm so doomed.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I spent a good portion of my weekend doing some Ikea hacking. For those of you out of the zeitgeistial loop, an Ikea hack is a project that takes products from Ikea and modifies them into a new configuration and/or redesigns them for a new purpose.

In my particular case, I wanted some floor-to-ceiling lamps to frame my living room window, replacing the curtains that came with the house when I bought it. I don't like curtains of any kind, and I don't need them since the window has an exterior roller shutter, so I figured I could get rid of them.

However none of the lamps at Ikea were tall enough. So I did some lateral thinking, bought four Dudero lamps, and merged the components into two.

new lamps 2

The best thing about these Dudero lamps is that they only cost $19.95 each, so with a few extra odds and ends the entire project cost less than $90.

And yes, I do realise that the armchair needs recovering. If that problem could be solved with a weekend and $90, I'd be a happier man.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


I don't know about you, but when confronted with a movie title like "The Incredible Melting Man", my thoughts immediately conjure up a black and white tale from the 1950s, in which the eponymous hero with incredible bodymorphic superpowers overcomes some dastardly nemesis to save the day, not to mention the girl in the cashmere sweater.

But despite the title, 'The Incredible Melting Man' was actually made in 1977, not 1957, and as such it's a very different beast.

The Incredible What Happens When You Put A Pork Pie In The Microwave Man

After being subjected to the power of sunlight shining through the rings of Saturn, astronaut Steve West returns to Earth a hideous mess. His cellular structure has been mutated, such that he no longer has coherence. He is, in short, melting, and he's none too happy about it.

Once back on Earth Steve is locked in a covert government hospital, where he can melt away in secret. Of course, why his condition has to be kept secret is never made clear. It was the 70s. Massive government conspiracies didn't need reasons in the 70s. "I govern, therefore I conspire" seemed to be the rule of the day. There were probably massive government conspiracies to mask the 0.4% increase in the paperclip budget, or hide the fact that the Secretary for Defence lost a hubcap on the New Jersey Turnpike.

In any case, the mutation causing Steve's melting has also given him an unlikely jolt of superstrength. This doesn't seem very likely from a physiological perspective, but once again, it was the 70s; compare this with the science behind the Bionic Woman and it starts to look like a case study from The Lancet. Steve's superstrength allows him to break free from his restraints and attack his chubby, unattractive nurse, who runs away from him (towards the camera) in slow motion, evidently before the invention of the sports bra. She runs though a plate glass door and gets half way across the carpark before Steve brings her down, and then eats half her face.

Why? It was the 70s, that's why.

Unsated by half a chubby nurse face, Steve continues on his gooey rampage, taking out a fisherman, a wacky old couple, a General, a redneck, the local sheriff, two security guards and (indirectly) a scientist. From the evidence on the screen, I'd say that all of them were robots, given that they seemed to have the "acting" dial on their backs either turned way down, so that their big death scenes sounded like Garrison Keillor monologues, or turned way up, so that they reacted to relatively minor troubles with hysterics, convulsions and a possible loss of bladder control.

Whether or not they were robots, and thus falling under the auspices of a completely different massive government conspiracy, one must question why Steve needed to be melting to fulfil the requirements of this particular narrative. His semi-molten state didn't allow him to do anything that a regular superstrong homicidal maniac couldn't do, other than leave a squelchy trail. The radiation could have turned him into anything... a human torch, a giant chicken, Diana Ross... and the effect on the story wouldn't have been any different.

In truth, the real reason why Steve was melting was because the special effects guys had some cool new slime makeup they wanted to try out, and the producers felt that 'The Incredible Man' lacked panache as a title. There's the real conspiracy in this film.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sicko (Day Three)

In many ways hospitals are a lot like airports. They’re big, bland buildings in which half-hearted attempts have been made to make you comfortable. Nobody wants to be there, but they realise they have to be. There’s nothing to amuse you, it’s impossible to get any sleep, there’s a lot of emotional stress in the air, speakers in the ceiling make a lot of irrelevant announcements, and the food is, at best, serviceable.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair. The food isn’t so much “serviceable” as “terrible”. True, it’s probably nutritious, and I imagine it’s cheap to produce, but it’s aimed at a very particular demographic, of which you and I are not members. Put simply, every meal in hospital is like dinner with your grandma. It’s bland, it’s squishy, it promotes good regular bowel movements, and it hasn’t been seen in the dining rooms of anyone under sixty in twenty years. I had spinach and ricotta ravioli, and it was served with cauliflower and brussel sprouts. When I elected to have cornflakes for breakfast rather than porridge or semolina, it came with stewed prunes on the side. The fish mornay came with instant mashed potatoes. And just when I thought I was safe, when I saw a little bowl marked “mixed berry cheesecake”… it was just a powdered biscuit base covered in blancmange! Every meal I kept expecting a nurse to sneak up behind me and shove a spoonful of cod liver oil down my throat.

Things are probably different in private hospitals, just as they’re different in the first class lounges at the airport. They probably get cheesecake that contains actual cheese. And cake.

By mid-morning on this, my third day in hospital, I was starting to go a little stir-crazy. Fortunately I’d been informed that there was just one test left that they wanted to run on me: a cardiac exercise stress test. Once the consultant cardiologist had swung by to glare at me, as if I were something revolting that his cat had sicked up onto an expensive rug, a new nurse was sent in to prepare me for the test.

“Have you had one of these before?” she asked.


“Well, we just need to attach some sensors to your chest, and to prepare the skin I’ll be doing a little light sandpapering.”


“And then an alcohol swab.”


“Oh, it’s not that bad. Certainly not as bad as a needle.”

“But I have very sensitive skin!”

“Don’t be such a baby. There are only ten of them to attach.”

And off to work she went. Having the skin on your chest sandpapered then swabbed with alcohol feels much like you’d expect – like being stung by a bee the size of a Pomeranian.

“The redness will vanish in a moment,” she said, confidently. Then a few seconds later she frowned. “My, you do have sensitive skin, don’t you? I’ve never seen a rash like that come up.”

“I’m a regular medical marvel,” I muttered through clenched teeth.

Soon afterwards I was lead down the corridor by a technician and introduced to another middle-aged lady, who took one look at the sensors on my chest and pursed her lips disapprovingly. “No, no, what does she think she’s doing? This one’s in the wrong place. And so is this one. And these two. And that one down there. Take them off.”

“Well, five out of ten isn’t bad,” joked her assistant.

“We’ll just have to do them again. Get the sandpaper.”


“Sorry,” she said, without any appreciable trace of sorrow whatsoever.

After another attack of the Pomeranian-sized bees, I was put onto a treadmill and instructed to walk at the pace necessary to keep up. Every few minutes they bumped up the speed and the incline, and I watched as my pulse rate slowly rose up from the low 50s to the high 170s. They said that they’d keep going until I was unable to continue, but I have pretty good stamina, and it was they who eventually stopped the test.

“So, I guess I passed that one?” I said, once I’d cooled down a bit.

“The exertion aspect of it, yes,” the attending doctor replied, in a tone that suggested that this was the equivalent of spelling my name right on the top of an algebra exam.


“I don’t like this incline on the T axis and the span of the QRS here,” he said to the operator.

“And the X line on the QTc with the purple monkey dishwasher is flapjacked,” she replied. Or words to that effect.

“So what does this mean?” I asked.

“Hmmm… we’re not sure. We may need to keep you in another night.”

As you might imagine, I was not very receptive to this. Having had a lot of time to observe and practice, I gave him my own version of The Glare. It seemed to work; he quailed before its chill flintiness and promised to consult with the senior cardiologists before making a decision.

I was taken back to my room and reconnected to my ECG machine. A little while later the doctor came in and told me that I was being released, on the understanding that I’d be coming back as an outpatient in a few weeks for an EEG scan, a Holter monitor and an appointment with the cardiologist.

Do not underestimate the awesome power of The Glare.

It's interesting to note that after all of these tests, they still couldn't state with any conviction that there was actually anything wrong with me. There were a few tiny abnormalities, but they didn't seem to mean much. It seems that I got sick with a nasty gastric bug, which upset my entire physiology, which triggered my fairly easily triggerable fainting response. It doesn't seem that I'm in any immediate peril of dropping dead.

An hour later I was back in the public corridors of the hospital, the same ones that I walk down every day to get my newspaper or go to meetings. It gave me a sudden sense of disconnect, especially as I was in a T-shirt and sneakers rather than my usual suit. An hour after that I was home again, back to a proper bed, proper clothes, proper food and the sweet twin embraces of the internet and television.

While it’s nice to back in normality, there is one other thing worth noting about my little stay in the hospital. Despite the fact that I was attended by dozens of medical staff at six different professional levels, hooked up to four ECG machines, two ultrasound scanners and four saline drips, underwent three blood tests, six doses of drugs, a chest X-ray, and so many blood pressure readings that both of my upper arms are lightly bruised, the whole affair didn’t cost me a cent. People may bitch and moan about it, but we have one hell of a public health system.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sicko (Day Two)

A little after midnight I got out of bed to go to the toilet, which was down the other end of the ward. Because I was still connected to my drip I had to take it with me, along with its chrome stand and the little whirring, bleeping machine that controlled the flow.

As I was in the toilet I started to feel a familiar feeling, as if reality had decided that I was a waste of effort and elected to move on without me. I remember unlocking the door and stepping out, and then the next thing I knew I was on the floor, watching the nurses’ hands dancing around me. They returned me to my bed and ran another series of tests; more blood pressure readings, pupil exams, reflex responses and ECG readings.

I offered to try a little experiment. I sat up and swung my legs over the edge of the bed, and just leaned against it until I sensed that heavy rush of incipient unconsciousness starting to build. They watched the instruments, but other than a slight drop in blood pressure there was nothing very conclusive.

The nurses took a dim view of my medical histrionics, and sent me out of the dark, quiet calm of the Observation Ward back into the brightly-lit, noisy drama of the Emergency Department. No one was going to take any chances. I had the saline drip plugged into the back of my hand, a pulse monitor on my finger, an automated blood pressure monitor on my arm (which had the unnerving habit of activating itself without warning, as if it had taken sudden offence to my heart rate) and half a dozen ECG electrodes across my chest. I looked like an extra on ‘Borg Hospital’.

Not that this technology seemed to help much. At one point I drew the doctor’s attention to the fact that my ECG seemed to be implying that I was simultaneously running the London marathon and lying dead on a mortuary slab… all while I was lying there feeling perfectly fine and chatting amiably. He, of course, just gave both me and the ECG monitor The Glare.

Throughout this, I complained that the pain in my stomach was getting more severe. Stomach aches aren’t very glamorous, I gather, unless they’re low enough to be appendicitis, which this one wasn’t. Finally, at around 5am, my stomach decided that it was tired of being treated like a second class organ, and made its bid for medical glory. Over ten minutes the pain soared from mere hurt to eye-popping agony. The nurses asked me to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is mild discomfort and 10 is being hacked at by an epileptic with a rusty scythe. I gave the pain a 9.

A nurse gave me morphine, then a few minutes later asked how I felt.

“The pain hasn’t gone down,” I replied. “But you know, now I don’t really care.”

However within five minutes I cared again… a lot. I tried to be manly, but frankly it felt like I was carrying a foetal Freddy Krueger, and he was trying to perform his own caesarean.

Eventually I was dosed up on more morphine, an antibiotic, Mylanta and a numbing agent. Two of these were served to me in a cocktail, nicely layered in pale pink and grenadine red.

“We call it a Pink Lady,” said my jocular, middle-aged male nurse. “Just think of it as a shooter.”

“Okay,” I said.

“That means you have to skull it, not sip it” he warned. “It numbs everything it touches, so if you swill it around your mouth, you’ll be drooling for the rest of the day.”

The Pink Lady worked, and the pain receded. Then I too receded. I was so relaxed that I couldn’t move… well, I could move if I really wanted to, but I just didn’t want to. I simply lay there, as beatific as a reclining Buddha, while the crazy lady in the next bay crooned her little songs and drunken bogans filed past nursing drunken bogan injuries.

Around mid-morning the doctors returned, and subjected me to more glaring. It was their diagnosis that I was suffering from a bout of gastroenteritis, and it was the physiological stress of this that was causing my blood pressure to plummet unexpectedly and black me out. Their greatest concern was that all their tests weren’t turning up anything significantly wrong. All of my organs were fine. My tests were normal. All they could latch onto were a few “abnormalities” which could either explain everything or represent absolutely nothing at all. They were not impressed. I think they felt it made them look bad in front of the junior staff.

One of the friendlier doctors, the one with the ultrasound, came back and did some more scans, helpfully tilting the screen so that I could see inside myself. There was my heart, pumping away, with the blood highlighted in different colours according to its direction. There was my intestinal tract, roiling and twisting as it struggled to cope with whatever bug had infected it, with tiny specks of food tumbling about in the fluid. There was my appendix, sitting out of the way and minding its own business, and no doubt indignant that it always gets blamed for everything.

I must admit to a newfound love for the ultrasound. One of the consultants suggested that there was a slim possibility that my condition might be being caused by a gallstone pressing against a sensitive part of the gallbladder wall. Before ultrasounds, there would have been no way to test this other than exploratory surgery, since most gallstones aren’t dense enough to appear on X-rays. But with the ultrasound, it was just a matter of running the probe over the right part of my torso, and there my gallbladder was, benign and empty.

(And just in case you’re wondering, yes, it did occur to me when I saw my first ultrasound image to joke, “So, is it a boy or a girl?” Fortunately before I opened my mouth I realised that every patient, without exception, must make this gag, so I thought better of it and kept my mouth shut. I suspect that this is why the ultrasound doctor and I got on so well.)

With a diagnosis reached, the doctors decided to shunt me up to one of the cardiology wards, so that they could monitor my heart with the specialised and more accurate ECG machines. It wasn’t until I got up there, and was embraced by the many tentacles of the ECG octopus, that anyone thought to tell me that this was going to mean another overnight stay. The nurse explained that they wanted to monitor me for a full, uninterrupted 24 hours.

“But I’m feeling okay now,” I protested. “And I have plans!”

The nurse gave me her own version of The Glare.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, The Flatmate had been told what was happening by my boss, and tried to arrange to get me some fresh clothes and toiletries. However he was sternly advised by the hospital reception that a) I was in the Coronary Care Unit and b) only members of my immediate family were allowed to contact me. Of course this made it sound like I’d had a heart attack and was clinging to life by the barest thread, whereas in fact I was reclining in bed with a nice cup of tea reading a novel, pausing only to answer my mobile or bounce up and down to see how this affected my pulse rate. No wonder he sounded so nonplussed when I phoned him to ask him to record ‘Heroes’ for me.

After another round of ultrasound scans, this time performed with a specialist cardiac scanner, I spent the evening reading (fortunately I’d been admitted with my briefcase, which contained a brick-sized novel), listening to old Lileks podcasts on my iPod, and receiving a visit from a friend who hadn’t taken this whole “immediate family only” thing too seriously. Around 11pm, as I set myself down to sleep, serenaded by thunderous but mercifully short bursts of snoring from the next room, I reflected that at least my stomach no longer hurt, and as such I was past the whole “pain” side of things.

As usual, I was wrong.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sicko (Day One)

It started at around 7am on Tuesday. I woke feeling a little clammy and sore in the stomach. I paid a couple of visits to Diarrhoea City, but other than that I felt reasonably okay, so I trundled off to work.

I was not reasonably okay.

By late morning, I casually announced to our receptionist that I was going to have a little lie down on the floor in my office, and asked her to do something if I swallowed my tongue. She later told me that my skin colour had gone from “Aussie Tan” to “Simpsons Yellow”. As I lay quietly on the floor in my office, she brought me a wet tea towel to put on my forehead, and called my boss in. I swore I’d be okay after a few minutes, and a quarter of an hour later I was back up and walking around. Then sixty seconds later I was back on the floor again, reluctantly agreeing to let my boss drive me home.

I reclined the passenger seat in my boss’ car and lay there feeling wretched as we scooted down the freeway. I thought to ask her to turn down the heating, since I felt stifled and was starting to sweat, but when I glanced at the centre console I noticed that the heating wasn’t switched on. I wriggled around in my seat, trying to get comfortable, and as we passed through the final set of traffic lights before my house, I reassured myself that I’d soon be home and settled down in my bed.

Then I noticed something odd. My eyes were open, but I couldn’t see anything. This isn’t normal, I thought. I blinked a couple of times, and yes, my eyes were definitely open, but all I could see was darkness. I thought to comment on this to my boss, and suddenly the world started to resolve in front of me. I realised we weren’t moving. I heard my boss talking to someone, then I felt cold water being sprinkled on my face. We were in the car park of my local Pizza Haven, and I was being doused in rather expensive Nature’s Spring mineral water from their refrigerator.

Apparently, according to my boss, I’d lost consciousness and started convulsing a couple of minutes earlier. The darkness I’d seen with my eyes wide open was actually the inside of my eye sockets, as seen when my eyes rolled back in my head.

She drove me back to the hospital where we work.

I was admitted to the Emergency Department at around 1pm. Chipper orderlys shuttled my gurney from one bay to the next, as the emergency staff tried to classify me and decide what needed to be done. Nurses checked my temperature and blood pressure. A doctor ran an ultrasound probe over my heart. Medical students asked me questions. A resident lost his patience with an ECG machine that refused to admit that I was still alive.

I had two more episodes while in the ED. The first one was short, nixed almost before it started as I was being manhandled by two doctors who tilted me back so that the blood rushed to my head. The second one occurred while I was propped up on my gurney, with no way to lower my head. I was about to lose consciousness again, but as soon as I weakly muttered “help” to a passing nurse, I was surrounded by every kind of medical specialist known to man. They seemed touchingly pleased that they might have an actual emergency in the Emergency Department, and then they looked rather crestfallen when I perked up again almost as soon as they’d started treating me. It was to be the first of many times that medical specialists would glare at me over the next 48 hours for having the temerity to pass out, then pop back up again without any apparent symptoms, ill effects, or dramatically prolonged ECG readings.

As afternoon passed into evening one of the senior doctors ambled up to my gurney and informed me that he wanted to keep me overnight in the Observation Ward, since they could not as yet determine what, if anything, was wrong with me. All of my tests were coming back irritatingly clean, but for just a couple of tiny anomalies that didn’t seem to mean anything. I commented that my stomach still hurt, and seemed to be gradually getting worse, but he seemed to regard that as a distraction from my heart and my brain, which he was inclined to blame. Around 9pm I was shunted into the Observation Ward, given a saline drip and some jasmine tea, and told to get some sleep.

But of course, it wasn’t going to be that easy.