Part 5: The quiet room

In order to get some respite from the hordes of family who have taken over my house, I decide to “look after Ms 5” by which I mean lie on the bed like a petulant teenager and scroll through Twitter. Around 4 I get the call from my husband’s surgeon. His surgery had taken longer than expected (6.5 hours compared to 4) but he was well, and would be transfered to the ward in 15 minutes.

Knowing that time is a malleable concept in the hospital system I choked down a “salad sandwich” comprised of crunchy tomato, limp lettuce, and stale bread. My baser needs satisfied I was off!

Parking didn’t prove much easier the second (third?) time around, but I managed to find a park which while not being in the direct vicinity of the hospital, was at least in the same postcode. While walking I received another phone call, this time from a nurse on the ward, the same one who had written down my number before: my husband was on his way to the ward, now was the time to visit!

After the day’s earlier calamities my spirits were buoyed. I was finally going to see him and know for myself if he was ok.

Through the hospital’s entrance I walked, down the hall, then up the lift to level 4.

When I arrived I was told that my husband had not yet begun the journey from the theatre to the ward, so I was directed to sit and wait in the “quiet room”.

While the waiting room from earlier in the day had been grey, the quiet room had beige as its defining motif. The carpet was beige, the walls a different shade of beige, and the furniture was the most delightful shade of brown melamine. There was a side table that I recognised as being from The Reject Shop. I admit I know this because I have this same ‘piece’ in my house.

This was a dreary room. A depressing room. A room for receiving bad news in. A room for making unfortunate phone calls in. A room for being quiet.

The guy perched awkwardly on the end of the lounge we were sharing had a different interpretation of the term “quiet” than I did. He was watching a YouTube video on his phone of an interview with the boxer Mohammad Ali. At full volume.

The quiet room was not devoid of decoration. There were 4 ‘prints’ which looked remarkably like wrapping paper presented in cheap metal certificate frames. There were also some aging wilting flowers which had been cast aside by patients past. Lastly, one wall of the quiet room was dominated by a pair of brown curtains. I pulled the curtains aside to reveal:

IMG_20150223_172508what appeared to be an xray screen. The curtain was an affectation, an attempt at homeliness in a beige and sanitised space. The quiet room used to be a consultation room.

Fifteen minutes turned into thirty turned into forty five. My phone’s battery died, leaving me with the windowless curtains to ponder. My fellow quiet room patron started to watch another video. I couldn’t tell you what or who he was watching, just that they fancied themselves a comedian and bandied about the “n word” a lot. It cut through the silence like nails on a chalkboard. The tension was palpable, or maybe it was just me.

Then lo! A wild nurse appeared. 30 minutes he tells me, not long at all! I might have believed it an hour ago, but now i’m not so sure.

The die is cast. I sit in the not-so-quiet quiet room and I continue to wait.

Part 4: A fuck up of biblical proportions

You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

It appears someone has installed a revolving door in my house. Social conventions have gone out the window as well-meaning family members let themselves in and out without knocking, without so much as calling out. I am resentful at their intrusion on my space, then feel shitty at myself for feeling resentful. They are helping! Stop being an ungrateful bitch! I can hear them now, taking up all of the chairs in the living room, making awkward small talk.

3 pm comes and I drive to the hospital. Cars are circling like sharks around prey. I get lucky and find a spot to park in, albeit one on the dark side of the moon. It is only for two hours but that should be fine… it should be fine..

I drag myself up the hill. The clothes that were suitable at 6 in the morning are now far too hot and heavy. I am sweating and anxious and feel sick. It doesn’t help that I haven’t eaten since this morning, but surely that mascarpone should tide me over? I enter the hospital entrance and walk with conviction, walk with purpose, whereas really I am just walking the way that the architecture ostensibly leads me to go.

I get to lifts and give up my one-woman mission. I ask a young guy who could be an intern or a specialist, I can never tell. Without taking his eyes off his phone he directs me to level 4. The lift carries me up.

I get out and walk until I find a desk. Visiting hours have just started but there appear to be people everywhere. Am I late? Could I have already got here? A nurse asks who I am looking for. I say my husband’s name and the woman repeats it as if she has never heard of such a person. Hell she probably hasn’t. He is my husband and I need to know if he is okay.

The woman is on the phone. She talks to numerous people in order to ascertain that my husband is still in theatre. All bustle and business she reports to me that he will be at least another two hours, if not more. I ask if something has gone wrong, if I should be concerned. She answers as if by rote that she doesn’t know, but that it is likely he was bumped back for another surgery, perhaps an emergency came in overnight, perhaps perhaps perhaps. I am welcome to wait but they will ring next of kin, explaining it to me as if I am a small child. “that’s me!” I exclaim “I am his wife!”. She takes down my number on a slip of paper I am convinced will never been seen again before asking me to repeat my husband’s name. She writes my name besides his, joined with an arrow. My connection to my husband reduced to a road marker.

I want to scream his name. I want everyone in this ward to know his name! I know it, it is burnt into my skin. I am trying not to cry, I am angry and upset. This is a fuck up of biblical propoertions and yet a completely ordinary misunderstanding. I should have called first. I should have eaten lunch. I want them to know my husband’s name. I don’t express any of this. Instead I say “… oh okay thanks”. I turn on my heels and take the lift downstairs. Then begins my long walk back to the car.

Part 3: A parental call to arms

You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

I hit publish on this when the phone rings. Not my mobile, which I expect to ring, but the home phone which we only keep connected because parents and in-laws tend to be averse to using their mobiles. My heart is in my throat as I have no idea who would be calling that number and why. I hurry to answer it.

After pleasantries are exchanged I am asked if I am Mum to Ms 5. I answer in the affirmative. “She just vomited” the voice on the phone tells me. “I will come and get her right away” I answer.

A parental call to arms. Regardless of the other dramas that might be happening, and my overwhelming compulsion to sit around feeling sorry for myself, I race to Ms 5’s school.

I park illegally and half-walk/half-run into the office. A kindly office lady brings my baby out. She is pale and shaking, vomit splatters the front of her school tunic. “There was red in her vomit, did she drink red cordial?” she asks kindly. “At a party yesterday, yes, red cordial” I reply, hoping that it is in fact red cordial and not a sign of something more sinister. She did attend a party yesterday, against better judgment she drank red cordial. But what if? I shut that thought down quickly. That is not an option.

I bundle her home. Bubble bath is run, toast is made and promptly goes cold. A fever has gripped my baby, we argue about medicine which she stubbornly refuses to take. She is now in bed, on my husband’s side, watching a movie on our TV. I am jumpy, every movement sounds like the beginnings of a vomit. I hear my phone making phantom noises. What if someone needs to contact me? What if what if what if

Plans are rearranged. No ballet for Ms 5 this afternoon, likely no school tomorrow either. Work commitments flicker on the edge of my consciousness. Lists and lists and lists of tasks to do. Time critical tasks. A husband in surgery who needs me. A child in bed who needs me.

I want to not be needed for five minutes. That doesn’t change the fact that I am.

I feel sick I feel sick I feel sick.

It isn’t even 2 pm.

Part 2: “I’ll have the special”

I went from the hospital waiting room after saying my goodbyes, to the beach. Well, not directly to the beach as I had to navigate the labyrinthine car park in order to even leave the premises. The parking machine didn’t take credit cards, I somehow took three wrong turns in the car park itself and for a while found myself unable to leave. Trying not to cry, trying not to become overwhelmed, failing on both counts.

Eventually I escaped and found myself at the beach. I left the hospital and went to the beach without even really knowing why. I drove there because it is a scenic place to be, and I know how to get there, and the parking is easy at that time of the morning. Mind you, I don’t have to justify that decision to anyone as there is no one to justify it to, but here we are.

A man is sitting in the gutter, covered in blood. A police car is next to him, with its lights flashing. His bike lays mangled up on the grass. I don’t know what happened. He is alive I guess, as am I. Traffic slows to take in this spectacle. I avert my eyes and park my car.

I sit myself in a cafe after being directed by wait staff to sit anywhere I like. I wait 20 minutes and realise no one is coming. I don’t have the mental energy to flag down a waitress so I sit somewhere more public. When asked what I want I order my usual coffee (you know the one) and “the special”. I order it because reading the menu is confusing, plus the special has mascarpone which a) sounds delicious and b) i have never had. Now seems like as good a time as any to try mascarpone. I am not entirely sure what it is but if pressed I would say it was a kind of cheese.

When the food comes I take a photo of it and post it to instagram with the caption “heaven”. I have no idea why I do this as heaven is a place that some people think dead people go to. I don’t. The food isn’t heavenly. The pancakes are slightly burnt and weigh heavily on me. I cram it into my mouth in that half distracted way that you do in order to satisfy yourself, in an attempt to not feel feelings. Despite the pancakes being burnt and sickly, when the waitress returns I tell her “it’s lovely, thanks”. What else can I possibly say?

On autopilot I drive home. My daughter is at school so I am bouncing about the house. I write a blog post. My sister-in-law (who I appreciate more than I can ever express) drives out to my house and sits with me. I spew stream of consciousness things at her about my worries and fears, work, the recent death of my Father, clothes we both like. She brings me coffee and listens and offers no solutions because sometimes there are none to offer. She leaves as she needs to and should, full of unnecessary apologies. I am now alone.

I am agitated. My hands are shaking. People are sending me supportive messages on Facebook and Twitter and I reply with smiling face emoticons. There is no “agitated, hands shaking emoticon”. I am running on adrenaline and caffeine.

My husband was admitted at 6:30am. It is now 12pm. I will see him in 3 hours.

For now I will wait.

Part 1: You’re waking up with Sunrise!

The artificial light in the waiting room cast a sickly grey pallor over everything. A small TV overlooked the space, the noises cutting through the otherwise silent room. An obnoxiously cheerful blonde woman dominated the screen, rabbiting on about whatever it is people on such shows rabbit on about. Mr TSC and I eyed each other warily and exchanged those tight-lipped smiles that people do in emotionally fraught situations. “You’ll be fine lover” I told him, trying my hardest not to let my eyes well up. I chastised myself internally “For fuck sake woman hold it together”.

Two women appeared out of nowhere. One in administrative garb and one in surgical scrubs. The lady in the office clothes sat next to me and started speaking far too quickly for the time of day it was. “4c you can come up to 4c between 3 and 8 are the visiting hours 4c” is what it sounded like she said. “You mean she can’t stay, she has to go?” said my husband. “You’re waking up with Sunrise!” said the cheery woman on the TV.

I had bags of books and pens and water bottles, prepared for a day of waiting. Apparently none of this was necessary as I was being given my cue to exit. The woman in scrubs looked on sympathetically. The administrative woman with the staccato voice disappeared. “Take your time” said scrubs woman, in a way that suggested that we should say our goodbyes quickly.

I held my husband and kissed him on the cheek. I couldn’t kiss him properly as I have a cold that won’t go away and I don’t want him to get sick. I have lived in fear of it, knowing this day was coming. We exchanged goodbyes multiple times, not wanting to let go, not thinking this was going to be it. I understand that logically these people perform surgeries every day, that my husband is one of the many people who come in and out of these rooms. But I don’t love all of them. They aren’t all the father of my big-headed baby. I love this one. My heart is sick with worry.

My husband is having surgery on his sciatic nerve as I write this. I am going back at 3pm to see him. I need him to be okay. Please let him be okay.

COLAs and DECRAs: a comparison of kindergarten and higher education

In February of this year my 5-year-old daughter started kindergarten. Starting school is one of those thoroughly ordinary and expected events in your child’s life that still manages to knock you sideways when it happens, not because of what it is but of what it represents. My child is independent, my child is brave, my child is smart, my child is growing up.

But this is not her story, this is mine.

On her first day of kindergarten Ms 5, Mr TSC, and the other kindergartener parents and their kids met at the school for a briefing. We all congregated under an outdoor shelter while teachers chastised us into silence, but then spoke far too quietly for most of us to hear. The gist of it was that our children were to enter into a new routine, that the expectations for them were to change. Likewise there was the acknowledgement that our roles as parents had shifted as well, but that we should rest assured that our children were to be supported and well cared for.

At least that’s what I think was being said. There were far too many parents and I was way up the back.

Then the expected routine was outlined. We were to drop our kids off at the COLA if we arrived before 8:30. If we arrived after 8:30 we were to take them directly to the classroom. Bags went here, umbrellas somewhere else. If x scenario was to happen then y was to be contacted. Information was spewed at us by a kindly, but harried (and again, softly spoken) assistant principal. We were told of SRCs and P and Cs. NAPLAN tests and Crunch and Sip. And I thought to myself WHAT THE HELL ARE THESE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT?

I would steal surreptitious glances at my fellow parents, hoping beyond hope that I wasn’t the only one lost, awash in a sea of acronyms and jargon. Being someone who prepares for every possible scenario, I had been arrogant enough to assume that when it comes to kindy I would have it in the proverbial school bag. Boy was I wrong.

Later I was talking with my husband about the proposed drop off routine. “What the hell is a COLA?” I asked. He replied (as if this as the most obvious thing in the world) “a Covered Outdoor Learning Area”. My husband in his long-term association with the building industry had been tasked with building many of them under the Australian government’s Building the Education Revolution school’s stimulus scheme. Revenue offered to government schools as a part of this scheme was often used to build, amongst other things, large concreted spaces with rooves. On the plans he would see this acronym and came to learn what it meant. Later I struck up a conversation with another Mum while waiting for Ms 5 to come out of school. I confessed in that conspiratorial way that parents are wont to do “I didn’t even know what a COLA was until yesterday”. She turned to me and exclaimed “oh thank god, I thought it was just me!”.

Jargon can be defined as “unnecessarily technical language which provides polysyllabic replacements for perfectly adequate simple words“. Acronyms are a form of jargon, obscuring simple concepts behind codified letters, which then become part of a new language which make sense according to their own internal logic. I am not saying the abbreviations and language that was used on that first day of kindy don’t make perfectly rational and logical sense to the people who work in primary schools, or that they aren’t useful as signifiers, just that they didn’t make any bloody sense to me. The end result was that I felt like an idiot. and in order to hide my apparent idiocy I kept my ignorance to myself.

Anyone who has worked in higher education would agree with me when I say that it has its own internal language which you need to learn. Much like my daughter’s primary school, tertiary institutions create and adhere to language and logic of their own. Some acronyms are relevant to higher education providers across Australia (SSAF, DECRA). Others are more institutionally specific (TELT anyone? How about SMAH? Should I ask TEL or ITS?)

If you are a staff member at a tertiary institution, deeply embedded in the discourse of higher education, think back to being a student starting out in this space. Sure many of these acronyms are useful, and jargons can make sense, but their use is exclusionary. As a new student I remember being faced with acronyms for everything from staff members, to faculties, to support services. In orientation these were thrown about with such abandon that you would be forgiven for thinking that this language must be the norm and that you are an idiot for not knowing. I internalised that, as many students do, but used it as incentive to learn and become a part of the institution. I fear that not everyone has that resolve, and students who face extra challenges in accessing higher education don’t really need additional barriers put in their way. If higher education is already challenging for you then feeling like you don’t know your LD’s from your LLS can be a real pain in the A.

Similar problems exist for staff working in higher education. Mysterious internal workings are obscured in outdated websites and policy documents nobody reads. The person you talk to for annual leave is different to the person who arranges maternity leave, they both work in departments which are acronymed but you’re not sure what it is as the website hasn’t been updated and neither work after 3 anyway. The person who supports the phone is different to the department that supports your computers, and who the hell do I ring when video conference isn’t working? This environment fosters a great deal of self-sufficiency in higher education staff, and breeds a particular resilience in casual staff who often can’t, or don’t know how to access these support services and administrative staff at all. But it also divides the staff between those who know (or know someone who know) and those who flounder their way through the murky internal systems unique to their institution, taking six months to find out information that could have taken them five minutes had they have known the appropriate acronym to input into Google.

This critique isn’t unique to the tertiary sector, or any of the institutions where I have worked. This sector just happens to be the one I know best. But that day at my daughter’s school it hit me: it has taken me over a decade but I now have a passable understanding of the langauge and internal of higher education. For a long time the language and internal workings were foreign to me, and functioned to make me feel like an outsider, even after working as a casual (sorry ‘sessional academic’) for so long. I was familiar with the practices of higher education sure, and was more than comfortable with teaching and research, but I didn’t know the language. I could visit higher education, but it wasn’t my place.

Next time you refer a colleague to ITS, or a student to “the hub”; think about what you are asking them do, and what assumptions you are making. Not everyone knows to stand under the COLA until 8:30. Extend your institutional knowledge to your colleagues and students. Orientate your staff (particularly your casual staff, especially your casual staff) in the support networks and departments they should be aware of. When creating new departments and programs and roles, think about ensuring the transparency of the role, and the accessibility of the services to the people who need it most. A link on a website or a byline in an email isn’t enough: people need to know what it means. I extend that kindness to staff and students I know because know what it is to be the foreigner confused by the language of the locals. It makes you feel like an idiot, and worse, it makes you feel like an outsider.

Meet me under the COLA at 2:30 and I will tell you all about it.