Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Six and Six

Eight weeks down, four to go.

On the evening before Farmdoc's bypass surgery, the surgeon sat on the end of the hospital bed while he told us about the twelve-week recovery process.

During the first six weeks, progress would be measured week by week. There'd be bad days and slightly better days, but overall there'd be forward movement. Farmdoc should expect disturbances in every area of his life, including concentration and even taste and smell. At the end of this time, he'd be allowed to drive again.

In the second six weeks, progress should speed up and be measurable on a daily basis. And at the end of twelve weeks he should be able to do whatever he wanted.

This was when we could have made the piano joke. Do you know it? The patient asks the surgeon if he'll be able to play the piano after the operation. 'Of course you'll be able to play the piano!' says the surgeon. 'That's amazing,' the patient replies. 'I couldn't before.'

My guess is that the surgeon's heard that one plenty of times, so it's just as well we didn't bore him with it again. At this point we didn't understand what lay ahead, but we were grateful that he was so generous with his time. We would cling to his words through those difficult first six weeks ahead.

Most weeks it didn't feel that there was any progress at all. Farmdoc would drag himself up and down the corridor outside our apartment a couple of times and then fall into bed, exhausted. It was wet and cold, so we walked around and around the shopping complex at Melbourne Central. We joked that the security people must have wondered what we were up to, never entering any of the shops, but religiously circumnavigating every floor before taking the escalator to the next one.

Farmdoc couldn't read. His eyesight was blurry and he couldn't concentrate. He slept for hours. He was even fussier than normal about what he ate. His voice was husky, he had a persistent cough, he was often short of breath. It was impossible to imagine he'd ever be normal again - let alone play the piano, which he couldn't do before!

But then, after six weeks, we left Melbourne and returned to Onemilebridge, and sure enough, progress sped up. After two weeks here he's striding up hills as well as he ever did. He can sleep on his side without discomfort, and those scars that will forever tell the tale of his surgery are already fading.

The surgeon's advice was that if it hurts while he's doing something, then he should stop, but if it 's painless while he does it but hurts afterwards, then that's just a sign of his muscles being brought back into action, and he should continue. He's doing most normal farm chores, and in about a month he'll begin to see patients again. I think at the end of this six-week period he'll be as fit as he ever was.

When I was looking for an illustration for this post, all the photos I could find show a hollow-eyed and gaunt Farmdoc, looking like the survivor of some harrowing ordeal. I guess that's what he was, but I couldn't bear to look at those, so I have chosen a picture of the six of us, four weeks after the operation, celebrating Farmdoc's birthday - and his new life. May it be long and happy.


  1. All of you appear to be making a fine recovery. Ross, your hair is growing in nicely. I rather liked the buzz cut. Such a warm picture, with so many lovely smiles. Is that a ladder behind you, Ross? Don't even think about it!

    Best wishes from Canada.

  2. I wonder if you have read Raymond Carver’s A New Path to the Waterfall, a great book with some wonderful lines relating to how the author felt about his “bonus” years following a health scare?

    from What the Doctor Said:
    “he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
    in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
    when you come to a waterfall
    mist blowing against your face and arms
    do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
    I said not yet but I intend to start today...”
    Then there’s Late Fragment
    And did you get what
    you wanted from this life, even so?
    I did.
    And what did you want?
    To call myself beloved, to feel myself
    beloved on the earth.


    No other word will do. For that’s what it was.
    Gravy, these past ten years.
    Alive, sober, working, loving, and
    being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
    ago he was told he had six months to live
    at the rate he was going. And he was going
    nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
    somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
    After that it was all gravy, every minute
    of it, up to and including when he was told about,
    well, some things that were breaking down and
    building up inside his head. "Don’t weep for me,"
    he said to his friends. "I’m a lucky man.
    I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
    expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it."

    I can see from the picture - and in all your words - that Farmdoc is about as beloved as it gets. Here’s wishing you both many, many years of pure, low-cholesterol gravy.

  3. So glad the country air and being home has made a difference!

    Vivien - thanks for your kind words & good wishes - I can't imagine having to wait until 16 weeks. But so glad your worst fears were proved wrong. xxx H

  4. It is nearly August. It's time to try a post on your blog, Ross. A short one will do nicely.

  5. Thanks so much everyone for your amazing comments! They've really buoyed us. And I loved those poems. 'Gravy years.' So true.