Monday, 1 May 2017

Life goes on

Two things I learnt in the first 30 seconds – there was going to be a delay in my flu shot, and the nurse had run out of lolly pops.

I was disappointed in the lolly pop situation.  But I had scored a great parking spot so I decided to wait for the shot.

There were five of us banked up in the nurses' treatment room. We quickly became acquainted with each other because the nurse broadcast our affairs as she strode around all over the place.

A mother with her teenage daughter, waiting for a weekly weigh in because she wasn’t eating enough. Another mother of what we could only guess was a much older child. She was folding and smoothing a wide shouldered grimy work shirt across a knee and had a reaction each time her child let out a groan or a whimper.  He was the reason for the delay, having been rushed in with some injury that needed suturing. We couldn’t see him behind the curtain but his mother’s face told a story. Looked to me like she had gotten some worrying news bad enough to cry about, rushed out of the house in mixed up clothes and was now smiling in relief as she’d said in our direction, she ‘can’t watch him being stitched up’.

We were in a doctors' clinic in a sleepy country town so it couldn’t have been that serious an injury. Not bad enough to race to the city half an hour down the road.

The nurse kept up a running yarn that included all of us as she moved around the treatment centre, stitching, jabbing, swabbing and weighing.  I’m a box to be ticked in any doctors surgery, the one that says ‘Aboriginal’. And that got the nurse wondering aloud, so intimate was our gathering.

'What do you think of Welcome to Country?’  Of all the things she could have asked, it was that?

I figured she would rather tell me what she thought of this protocol now common to most public events, so I asked. And I was right. She had put quite a bit of thought in to it and other things. She had nursed in the Northern Territory for years, and had now returned to being mere miles from the nation’s capital. She had a lot to say about Aboriginal people and the differences between darker skinned, non English speaking, remote living Australians who are minimally educated in western ways. She knew a lot more than the ordinary person I tend to encounter, much more from her what is fashionable to call ‘lived experience’. The others leaned in and so it went, lively and cordial.

And then in one injection I was immunized for twelve months against swine flu, bird flu and BRAVO 1 and 2 influenza strains. And thanks to my great parking spot, I was barely outside for moments in a cold wind, before I was back inside my warm and comfortable home.

Less than a month ago a young man lost his life just around the corner, in a service station late at night, in a random act of violence carried out by two teenage boys. 

They are no longer open at night but I noticed during the day, people continue to go there though we all look around before we get out of our cars. That may wear off, but I think more likely it will be the norm, and we never forget. This is as it should be: he was someone's child, their son, their family. I remember him. He was a nice man, an easy person to share a smile with.  

A small remembrance shrine of flowers and photos sits outside the station, the flowers gently drying and fading in the bright autumn sun.  

While waiting half an hour for a flu shot, us women, strangers to each other, didn't acknowledge that weeks before,  two children had allegedly roamed all over the neighbourhood for 14 hours and attacked at least four people at random.  And now that I think about it, everywhere I have l lived has had some danger, some potential for a perilous encounter, and like most people, I just shake it off. 

The poor, the dark, the outsiders, the travellers, the night workers, we live outside societies comfort zone.  We're not the only ones.  Even if you live in a fortress with alarms and dead bolts, you are living with the threat of danger twenty four hours a day. How many times do you check the locks? And if you think about it, just how safe to do you feel right now?