I’ve had a migraine all day. I slept over at Mum’s last night; we left early from her house in Chidlow to drive northeast into the Western Australian wheat belt to Latham, the small country town where my Mum grew up. Where two of my aunties still live. And where this weekend the Primary School dug up a time capsule from 1988, because the school is closing. Only 6 students left. Migraines run in my family, so I was not alone: my cousin’s daughter, Ashlee, and my uncle, Dennis also had headaches. Perhaps it’s the wildflowers and pollen. The footy was on: Dockers played the Swans, and just won. I napped. My headache eased but didn’t go away. The town and most blow-ins are at the clubhouse. Most of my family have oscillated between Aunty Terina’s and Aunty Mim’s places, across the road from each other.
I learned some new AFL vernacular today: “He’s a koala!” refers to a player that is a protected species; umpires have a low threshold to call foul play against them. Tensions were high during the last quarter. The Dockers were in the lead but were struggling to hold on to it as the Swans fought back. Uncle Pete booed loudly when Goodes came on screen so Mum challenged his singling him out. Uncle Pete bristled, “I’m allowed to boo who I want!” Fair enough. It paled in comparison to Mum’s cousin constantly referring to the “coons”. I’ve spent two years living in a gay ghetto in Toronto, I went to Med School with the 40th Aboriginal Australian doctor. It was a confronting change of environment. Mum challenged here cousin’s racist and homophobic language, and he promptly got upset and complained that she should be more considerate of his feelings, especially as he was “getting excited” in the last few minutes of the game. I felt like adding fuel to the fire and wanted to reply, “Oh, Mum should care about your feelings now? When you’ve just spent the entire game using language that is insulting to me, my husband, and my colleague from Med School? You get to not consider how your language affects others but others have to care about your precious feelings now? Oh boo hoo! Go off and have a sook or toughen up, princess!” I didn’t. I just left. I massaged my temples. My neck and shoulders had tightened up.
Despite their roughness my family is still family and still look out for each other. My cousin, Cody, offered to get his elbow into my neck muscles then my Uncle Pete took over. It helped. Cody’s older sister, Keera, was making curried eggs; the meat was being barbecued outside. Uncle Dennis has even driven down from Denham. Uncle Bill has flown over from Queensland. Five of my Mum’s seven brothers and sisters are in town. I’ve not seen most of them for at least three years, probably four-and-a-half years – Poppy’s funeral. Those that live in rural areas, with more sun exposure and more labour-intensive lifestyles, have visibly aged the most. Aunty Mim’s new joke is to earnestly ask, “Do you know if you can buy clear duct tape?” The lure is to get you to ask, “Why?”. She then flattens her palms on her very wrinkly cheeks and pulls them taught and cackles, “So I can look young again!” Uncle Dennis has lost a few more teeth.
As I’m the only doctor in the family I get to hear, in detail, the story of any hospital admission, grievance about inadequacies of rural primary healthcare and opinions on the lack of Australian support staff in our tertiary hospitals. I’ve felt bad for Daniel this past few weeks as his grandmother has been admitted to hospital with delirium and is becoming an extremely difficult patient for the nursing staff. My Uncle Dennis takes the cake though; after being flown down by the RFDS to be admitted to RPH with acute diverticulitis earlier this year, initially misdiagnosed and then mismanaged as constipation by his local GP, he felt it necessary to give personal feedback in what probably constitutes assault. His GP resigned and left town soon afterwards.
At dusk I went with Mum to the cemetery, to say hello to her parents, my grandparents. Their shared grave is colourfully decorated with assorted ornaments and plastic flowers. There is a grey cherub with painted white eyes and black pupils. It’s weird.