Kyogle. Thursday, 12.15pm
Well, any chance of my resuming my triple jump career is well and truly ended.
Okay, when I say ‘resuming’, I really mean ‘starting’ – I never actually had a triple jump career. But still, it’s terribly sad that now I definitely can’t have a triple jump career if I decided to. Hmm… painkillers kicking in.
My left foot is unsocked and lies bloated and beached on the hospital floor. It is especially puffed around the first joint of the big toe. This is where the damage was done.
The painkillers the nurse gave me are starting to work as I wait for the doctor (who is in the X-ray room looking at my X-rays). Actually, I’m feeling quite relaxed… I’ll miss universal health care when it’s gone.
Sitting in a chair in a hallway in the emergency area of the Kyogle Hospital, I see no-one, but I hear sounds.
The television warble from the waiting room leaks in and goes on and on about a vacuum cleaner that is so tightly sealed it keeps 99.99 per cent of those nasty allergen-infected dust particles inside the cleaner. A nurse calls for assistance. Running footsteps. A heart monitor beeps, a drip alarm buzzes, an incoming email pings, and a security door clangs. A frightened, older woman cries and wheezes while a calm younger voice soothes her.
In a room nearby, a man groans. I saw him stumble in, clutching his arm, a nurse at his side, tears visible despite the Holden cap pulled low over his eyes. Kyogle boys do cry sometimes. I could tell from his grass-stained work clothes that this bloke too had made the mistake of going outside.
It’s my own fault, of course, this mishap. Instead of staying inside and using the internet for a safer life experience, I stupidly went outside. I could have stayed indoors and downloaded photos of 15 natural places you won’t believe exist. Or taken a cyber journey through that bit of Borneo that’s left and shared it with my Facebook friends. Or played Online Triple Jump. But no, I went outside, sucked in the allergens, and embarked upon some yard work.
I used to love going outside. I’d put on my work sarong, my Vietnamese bamboo hat, and do all manner of physical things. I loved pulling my brushcutter apart and reassembling it, only to discover it still wouldn’t run without petrol. I loved digging in the garden and finding a Telstra line.
Back then, I didn’t know the sun would give me cancer, the climate was changing, shareholders killed democracy, and society was a marketplace, not a commitment.
A couple of days ago, I read a post from a woman who went outside. Apparently, it was really good. Back inside, she posted a selfie and wrote something glib about nature spirits. I liked her – whoever she was – and thought I’d give it a go.
But away from the lumbar support of my office chair, disoriented by 3D life and unbalanced by picking up a rake, I tripped on the concrete step and smashed my toe. It hurt. A lot.
At that moment, I realised I will never be a triple jumper. Sad, but I thanked the caring spirit of a pre-internet Australian society which created a free health care system so universal it even extends to Kyogle, which is just a short drive from this treacherous garden.
Before politics became devoid of commitment to social enrichment; before government became a business and citizens became clients; before economics replaced compassion as a driving social force; before friends could be switched off; a great thing was achieved in Australian society: free health care for everybody.