Lockdown, mortality and imaging artefacts

A few weeks into this sprawling mess of a half-national lockdown, I imagined that I was going to die. I was in a doctor’s office, talking to a respiratory specialist about the strange chest infection I’d been carrying around since early May.

A fortnight earlier, on the first day of the latest mini-lockdown in Brisbane, I’d taken myself off to Greenslopes Hospital for some scans. Or so I imagined. Instead, they came at me with something that looked like the needle a second or third generation Terminator might use to inseminate captive human hosts with machine spawn.

Into my lungs it went, and out came half a litre of rank, brown mystery-meat juice.

Then I had my scans.

To be fair, it was a good deal. I felt a helluva lot better with that evil brown flux sucked out, and I thought medical science had done it again.

JB was saved!

Kind of a bummer then to have this respiratory specialist tell me in her Very Serious Voice that the scans showed ‘nodules’ in my lungs.

She spun her laptop around and I looked at them on the screen. There was even a helpful animation.

And there they were. She wanted to send another specialist in, a surgeon this time, to grab up those nodules, and rip ‘em out. As a bonus they would siphon off all the leftover mystery juice. There was heaps, apparently.

At this point, I’m trying to stay cool, but I’m reeling a bit. I thought I’d dodged all the big bullets. I’d thought all I needed was some mad strong Lemsip.

But the doc wasn’t having any of my guff. Lung nodules in a guy like me, with a history of melanoma? Not a good look, fam.

“When can we get you into surgery?”

“Well I’ve got a manuscript to finish. That’ll take about five weeks, and then…”

She cut me off.

“We don’t have five weeks.”

Awkward silence.

“Oh. I see.”

A few days later I was in pre-op, in my backless gown and see-through undies, not feeling even a little bit sexy.

I remember commenting on the Spotify playlist as they wheeled me into theatre. Solid 90s power ballads. Crunchy guitars. Good times. I remembered that my writer bro Nick Earls was due for his own appointment with the blade very soon and I wondered if he might pass through this very room.

(In fact he had already been and gone, just a couple of weeks earlier. And yes, we did get the same operating table as they chopped us up like a sushi buffet).

I remember the countdown for the anaesthesiologist. I got from 20 all the way down to 11.

Cos I’m hard, guvnor, rock ‘ard.

And I remember slowly coming back to consciousness in the intensive care unit. When they realised I was awake they swooped with all the machines that go ping. We got real busy for an hour so in the ol’ ICU before things calmed down again. I kicked back and checked it all out. I was supposed to be writing a scene set in a hospital and here was the perfect chance to sprinkle a little participant-observer pixie dust on the copy. The thing that struck me was the way they spun order from complexity. There were a lot of beds in that unit and we all needed intensive care, naturally.

In my drugged delirium the staff were like Gods the way the took the bloody chaos and trauma of bodies come apart and somehow magicked it all into quiet harmony and procedure. They were men and women, some natives of the city, and many come from all corners of the world.

The other thing I noticed - they were teachers. There seemed to be student nurses or maybe trainee doctors scattered through the unit, and they were constantly checked and tested and scrutinised by the older nurses.

It was a joy to simply watch them work. (Except for my sponge bath. They had my condolences for that one, the poor bastards).

The cutting work done on me was by no means the gnarliest surgery that day. But it was enough to lay me low. I was in ICU for two days, never moving from my trolley, full of holes and tubes, pissing in a plastic bottle.

Eventually physio arrived to see if I could walk.

I could shuffle, after a fashion, and so we shuffled off to Recovery.

I was three days in Recovery, waiting on the biopsies. I did not so much fear the worst as simply expect it. That’s an old quirk. I anticipate the worst and dare the fates to disappoint.

Because of COVID restrictions I could have no visitors. This eased off a little later, but for the first few days I was alone in my room—a very nice room—with only the nurses for company. But they were such, great, great nurses.

I could FaceTime my family, and I did.

But mostly I was on my own, waiting for the surgeon to confirm what we all knew.

On Saturday, three things happened.

A young, otherwise healthy woman, Adriana Takara, a 38-year-old accounting student, died of COVID in Sydney.

Thousands of protestors marched through the streets of the same city (and through Melbourne and Brisbane) raging against lockdowns, and masks, and black helicopters, and 5G nanobots, and Jewish space lasers and whatever and ever amen.

And my surgeon came with the results of the biopsies.

I watched the protests from a vast remove. I followed them on streaming news sites and via the firehose of tweeted outrage. But I couldn’t feel the same rage as everyone else watching on, aghast. I felt like I was already done with the world and rage was a waste of what time and energies were left to me.

But at that remove I still felt something.

I felt for the nurses and doctors and who would have to deal with the outbreaks that would surely come from this madness. I felt for Phil, my ICU nurse, who threw everything he had into caring for me the day I got out of surgery, a long, exhausting day for both of us, before he went home in the evening to cook risotto for his family.

Fucking risotto! Are you kidding me, Phil?

The most laborious of the rice dishes.

I felt for Kingsley, my night nurse in ICU, who had moved here from the UK and hadn’t been able to see his family at home since Ms Rona took all of that away from us.

I felt for Anne, who got me through a tough day in Recovery, and missed the Olympics opener because her daughter wanted to watch… I dunno… some kids movie she’d probably seen a hundred times before.

My memories aren’t great and records from that era are spotty at best.

I found myself thinking, why should these guys, who are the best people, have to suffer because of those guys at that protest, who are the worst?

Well, why should they?

No reason, of course. It’s just how things are.

Because a hard working and truly compassionate nurse should totes face lethal risk just so some dangerous Tik Tok idiot can buff his brand of performative wanknuffery for a small but deeply disturbed audience of fringe dwelling monoturds.

That’s just how we live now.

It felt weird, lying in that hospital bed, punctured and plugged in and monitored and alone, to contemplate where it was all going.

And then my surgeon arrived, and he was smiling, and it was the first time I’d really seen a doctor smile at me or for me, in a couple of months.

The biopsies were all clear, he said.

I was plenty sick, but the nodules were most likely an imaging artefact.

I received this happy news on the day Adriana Takara struggled for her last breaths, and Jon-Bernard Kairouz the Tik Tok Covid Numbers Guy guy filled his lungs to roar out that he was the ‘People’s Premier’ and he was protesting for ‘free dumb’.

It all seemed connected and disconnected and freighted with meaning and meaningless.

By the end of the day, however, Kairouz had deleted any evidence of his having been at the rally, perhaps thinking he could claim that his earlier livestream from the event was some sort of imaging artefact too.

But fuck that guy. He was there. They all were.


Apologies if this has been a meandering ramble of a post. I pecked it out over the course of the week because it’s been hard to hold a thought in my head.

Hoping to be back at full power next week.