What matters

This is not the post I had planned to write.

Last Monday, my daughter (who is epileptic) had a seven minute seizure on the way to school. We knew her seizures were escalating, but we expected a simple increase in medication, approved by her neurologist via email, would resolve them (as has happened in the past). Instead, with seizures occurring every fifteen minutes, we spent the week in hospital. Two hospitals, a team of neurologists including two professors, four medications, 48 hours on an EEG, and five days later she was stable enough to return home. Lots of follow-up needed, still having about 30 seizures a day, but home.

The temporality of hospitals is curious. There are few other places that combine numbing boredom and anxious panic. Day and night are no longer relevant. Exhaustion is constant. The nurses, volunteers, teachers and clown doctors deserve all the love. (And my heart goes out to all the children and parents who are struggling more than us). In our enforced closeness, my daughter’s good humour was inspiring. I am thankful for a partner who shared shifts, family and friends who visited, sent gifts (beautiful animal-shaped balloons!), care packages, texts, emails and meals, provided childcare for the four year old and offered distractions. I am indebted to colleagues who took up my slack at work, by giving lectures, preparing workshops, proofreading articles (and those are just the things I remember off the top of my head — I haven’t yet braved my calendar). My daughter is at work with me today and she approved this post.

I am writing this hot on the heels of posts about busyness. The list of what I haven’t done is endless. Emails from work continue to arrive. Deadlines stretch and snap. Work is not so important; it doesn’t matter as much as it did a week ago.

Academic/ woman/ carer

I love International Women’s Day. (Being a slow academic, I can get away with this post being two days late, right?) It combines exciting bookish announcements – especially the Stella Prize shortlist for Australian women’s writing, which I read every year – and great conversations with daughters:

At my university, we had cupcakes and launched a promising Gender Equity strategy. This image is the strategy with the mentions of man, men or son replaced with pussy hats thanks to the wonderful plugin nomentions:

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A high point of the day was a talk from A/Prof Catherine McMahon on academic work and motherhood. This topic is close to my heart, and I enjoyed hearing a public declaration for putting family first, especially during health crises. Catherine described her daughter’s severe asthma attack last year, and her description of an ambulance drive to the children’s hospital with a non-responsive child brought back anxious memories of my own daughter’s ambulance trips.

IWD is a great opportunity to talk about the challenges of combining academic work and care  (for children, elders, partners, colleagues and students). Women carry a disproportionate load of care work, emotional labour, housework and service, in and out of the academy. I want to post more on the idea of ‘academic housework’ and its impact on careers. This is important to discuss here because of the emphasis of slow academia on care, kindness and collegiality. But tonight I offer the shortcut of links, many of which I want to revisit myself, and a promise for a future post – right now, I have bedtime stories to read (I highly recommend our current favourite Du Iz Tak?) and children’s heads to smell.

Vulnerability

I was sick for most of the holidays. In the space of a week, I had two visits to hospital, three visits to the GP, four lots of blood tests and four prescription medications. I am slowly on the mend. Turns out I had two different viruses and reactive arthritis. It was, by turns, messy, miserable and excruciating. Enough said.

A home-bound holiday was enforced on everyone, with less sun and more screen time than intended. I must acknowledge my wonderful family here – a partner who parented intensively and nursed surprisingly patiently; a brother who entertained and cooked meals; parents who chauffeured me to medical appointments; and other family members who phoned and texted daily to offer support and raise morale. Since I was too sick to read – almost unknown in these parts – I am also grateful for Netflix (image below from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries).

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It brought back a lot of emotions from my past experience with chronic pain – fear of interacting with my children (the way they bounce, bump and rock the fragile body in the sick bed), despair that pain and incapacity might be ongoing, and guilt at being outside of family life. It wasn’t pleasant to experience this vulnerability again – not only physical weakness, but the intense emotional burden of being unable to care for others. The other stark reminder was how slowly time passes when you are in pain. Day and (sleepless) night, you remain firmly rooted in your physical self for every excruciating minute.

Although she writes for a different context – single parenthood (and I ache for single parents struggling with illness) – one of my favourite bloggers Andie Fox (of bluemilk) writes this about the precarious structures of home life:

I am apprehensive about remembering just how exhausted and vulnerable I was. I can describe it no better than this: When you are a single parent, the home you build sits atop stilts and if the structure gets more than the smallest of shakes it begins to wobble in such a way as to pick up its own rocking momentum. A dangerously gyroscopic effect. In this way, even relatively moderate upsets can lead to a collapse in the entire thing.

And her balm? Poetry. So, here, an extract from Unmatching Legs Ode by Sharon Olds on her arthritic legs:

I don’t know why I am fairly cheerful
about my unmatching legs.
… I have always
liked my legs, the double stem
which lifts the big odd flower of me up
and up. It’s as if I fell in love
with them, when they and I began
to learn to walk together. The two of them were
best friends, who could press against each other
and feel the love, at the top of the stalks …
I’m sad they will rot. I wish our bodies
could leave us when they are done with us –
leave our spirits here, and walk away.