25 January 2011

Family fun in the sun

A couple of photos today is all I have time for. Too busy enjoying this exquisite post-deluge sunshine. Allen and I have just come in from a long, luxurious swimming session.

Allen wears a yellow flotation device around his chest. This provides enough buoyancy for him to feel confident going up and down the pool in either a dog paddle or crude back stroke. He's never in the water alone, but without the belt he has a hard time staying upright even at the shallow end. (In our pool, even here at the shallow end, where Allen's standing, the water is chest-deep. We built this pool for swimming, not wading. So the 'deep' end is exactly that: more than two metres deep.)

Allen's balance is poor at the best of times, even on dry land. So when standing chest-deep in water he can't manage even to stand upright unless he has the support of his flotation belt. But with it on, he's quite fearless and gets a lot of good exercise at every session. He used to be a good swimmer once, but swimming is another one of many abilities he has totally lost since his post-operative confinement. Funny what skills have deserted him. For example, he can no longer 'read' an analog clockface. He can recognise that it's time for the news, or nearly mealtime. But he just can't translate the clockface into words – doesn't recognise that the small hand on 10 and the big hand on 5 means 25 minutes past 10. And this is not because he can't find the words; he just doesn't 'read' clock-language any more. Solution: we bought him a digital watch. Problem solved.

And here's another photo I took just a few days ago, when we had a very pleasurable day here with Allen's niece Helen and her husband Bill. Helen and Bill were holidaying down on the Gold Coast and drove up to spend the day with us. Helen is one of two daughters of Allen's late sister, his only sibling, who was much older than him. They had good fun going through some of Allen's old scrapbooks. At one stage we heard a hoot coming from Allen's office, when Helen came across a photo of her grandfather's old ute.

"We used to all go to the beach in that car when I was a kid", she said.

In those days no one worried about carrying a bunch of small kids in the back of a ute.

It was a lovely, relaxed day. Bill and I cooked shish kebabs and marinated chicken on the BBQ. And just as we were about to serve blueberry pie, a couple of friends dropped in and joined the party.

Allen, battling his own afflictions, and Helen, valiantly fighting MS for many years, obviously share the same gutsy and fun-loving genes.

23 January 2011

Sunday visitor

Allen spotted it first. By the time I got to the kitchen window, our little visitor was happily sunning himself on the stones. But I think Allen said he had come down from the top of a nearby gas canister. I say 'I think' because it's very difficult for Allen to give a detailed, accurate account of any scene he's witnessed. He just can't find enough words to explain himself clearly. And if I ask too many questions to try and elicit information, he gets confused or upset. Then he's likely to tell me anything just to stop my questions.

Tree snake? Whip snake? Taipan??? (2011)
Whether this snake was climbing over the gas canister, or wound around the base of the canister is an important distinction. 'Climbing over' would mean this is probably a harmless tree snake. 'Wound around the base' means it could be a ground snake. In Queensland, snakes that climb up into trees and other structures are usually safe (unless the tree snake is a python and you're a baby or a little dog!) Snakes that only slither over the ground are best avoided, because they're more than likely to be poisonous. And even though this visitor was on the ground when I photographed him, I think he's either a tree snake (harmless) or a little whip snake (only slightly poisonous, and not very aggressive). (See * & ** below.) Whatever it is, you have to admire the wonderful camouflage. You could walk right by and never notice it.

Keelback on terrace steps (2010)
I don't think today's visitor is one of the little keelbacks who emerged from a nest under our terrace steps last year. The keelback had quite different markings, as you can see by comparing the top photo with this one of a keelback taken last year, when we seemed to have them all over the place for a few weeks during their breeding season. And even though keelbacks are ground snakes, in fact they aren't poisonous. Moreover, they are the only snake that can successfully eat small cane toads – those introduced pests that are slowly outcompeting our native frog populations. The cane toad is itself highly poisonous to any animal that tries to eat it. But the keelback somehow grabs the toad from the rear, and kills it before the toad can trigger its poisonous glands. Today's visitor didn't have the keelback's distinctive feature – those vertical black markings under the mouth.

Looking up our road, from our driveway entrance.
In our fourteen years of living up here in the coastal hinterland, I have never yet seen one of the lethal eastern brown snakes. Most snakes seem to me to be to be brownish in colour anyway, but the genuine brown snake is one of the largest and most deadly of the venomous snakes. My neighbour tells me that my predecessor on this block, the man who built this house and lived here for ten years, did occasionally see a brown snake on the property. But at that time, this was the only house on this side of the road. Adjacent one-acre blocks and blocks across the road had not yet been built on. Now there are houses up and down the road on both sides, and what were formerly neglected fields of tall grass and bushes are now lawns and gardens. Also, many people have dogs and though a brown snake can easily kill a curious dog, snakes generally prefer to avoid big animals and humans rather than attack, though we all have heard horror stories of aggressive brown snakes chasing people when they could easily have got away instead.

Oh dear. I didn't set out here to discourage friends and family from visiting. Honest. But I have learned to live with snakes, or with the knowledge that they're around. And let's face it: they're a lot less lethal than the gun-toting neighbours I might have had if I'd settled in some rural area of the USA instead of Australia!

An elegant carpet python making his way to the hidey-hole over Allen's office, where he spent two consecutive winters just a few years ago

I sent photos of today's visitor to someone whose opinion I respect. He consulted all his snake books and came back with a tentative suggestion that our snake could be a juvenile taipan! That's not a good result (for us). He suggested I send the photos off to a local snake-catcher for a more definite ID. Watch this space!

** The snake catcher has replied: "The lovely snake you have is not a taipan or a brown snake. It IS a yellow-faced whip snake . It has front fangs but is not considered dangerous to humans. It will however cause some effects. As always seek medical advice." But my friend is not convinced. He's sent the photos to the Qld Museum for a second opinion! In any case, if I see it again I plan to treat it with great respect, whatever it is.

22 January 2011

Surprise: 'We're expecting a baby!

I can't believe I've waited months to shout this news from the blog-rafters: I'm going to have my own grandchild at last!

I'm already a grandparent-by-marriage to Allen's two grandsons and one granddaughter. I have learned so much from that experience and been grateful for those kids' acceptance of me in that role. But in April my own daughter will herself become a Mum. I've been both amazed and overjoyed by how much that means to me at this stage of my life.

I had long resigned myself to the possibility that this might never happen. That helping to nurse Z through the difficult birth of a PhD and acting as granny to a Jack Russell who thinks she's human might be the closest I would get to the pleasures of grannydom. But when Z&B married one and a half years ago after several years of living together, I allowed myself a little frisson of hope.

Still, it came as a wonderful surpise when, not long after she and B arrived here for a family weekend in August, Z whipped out a little plastic wand showing two blue stripes. I let out a genuine whoop and leapt off my chair.

Then in October, Allen and I were invited to join Z&B in Brisbane on the occasion of her important nuchal translucency scan at thirteen weeks. There we saw the 'little sprout' herself – though the baby's gender didn't become known until a later scan. But as my son-in-law said after that first scan, "it's much more than just a jellybean now". And so it was. In fact, I was truly amazed at the level of development, even at that very early stage in the pregnancy. I had never seen a baby moving inside the womb, other than on TV. It certainly is a humbling experience.

Now, six months into gestation, all is going very well down in Brisbane. And up here in Doonan, there's knitting and sewing underway for both bub and expectant Mum. I am looking forward to holding 'our' baby almost as much as I once looked forward to her mother's arrival.

With all that's happened in Allen's and my lives in recent years – my mother's stroke and then death, the diagnosis of Allen's brain disease, his near-death and long, complicated recovery after life-saving surgery, and adjusting to my caregiver role – this truly is, as I told Z, the best news I've had in years, a reason to look to the future with something other than anxiety. Life goes on...literally. And what could be more hope-giving than a new little life.

(My daughter's blog about this happy event is Iddy Biddy Hippo.)

About me

My photo
I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.