The family had been travelling on holiday and we were due to be heading back home after our last stop at a family friends place out Orini way. They had a farm there; dairy I think. We arrived there just before midday and were welcomed at the door. Lunch was nearly ready so our arrival was opportune.
After lunch, the lads were all heading out onto the farm and they invited me along. Collecting and stacking hay was the chore planned for the afternoon. I was feeling a little sore in my side but ignored it and went along. I never really had much to do with farms so I was keen on what was involved.
We jumped onto the back of one of the large trailers attached to a tractor and we were off. The other tractor and trailer followed close behind and then, suddenly, it was a race with the lads egging each other on. It was short lived as we arrived at our destination and everyone started gearing up for work.
One of the lads took me under his wing and showed me what they were all up to. The bales of hay were spread out in the paddocks and we were collecting them up to take to the barn and so we got to work. I found this to be quite hard work and the others made it look easy. The ache in my side was steadily imposing itself in my thoughts but I managed to push it aside and kept going. I was grateful for the reprieve when we started heading over to the barn although that too was short lived. It was late afternoon by the time the tractors, with us in tow, headed back to the house.
I remember tea and biscuits and something else being served and I joined everyone at the table. I was tired and really sore by now, but quietly had something to eat and drink. As I started to get up from the table, the pain in my side hit me with tremendous force and I doubled up on the floor. Things got a bit hazy after that.
I recall people gathered around me at first and then I was lying on a bed with my mum sitting next to me and then I was in Tauranga hospital. My memories are generally sharp but there's not much in the in-between spaces in this case. I heard the doctors speaking to my parents and I heard something about appendicitis and operating. So, I was going under the knife it would seem.
This would have to be any parent's nightmare - not because I was going into surgery but because my little sister was also due to go into surgery at almost the same time. It was a nightmare because they would have one kid in Tauranga hospital and another in Greenlane hospital in Auckland at the same time.
My little sister was booked in for heart surgery to correct all the plumbing that nature had got wrong. This was relatively new territory back in the early 1970s, whereas extracting an appendix had become somewhat reasonably routine. Given the importance of this, I didn't have any problems with my parents leaving me in the care of the hospital and heading off to Auckland.
There were the usual tubes that were attached to my arm that we've all come to expect in a hospital and the pain in my side wasn't bothering me too much so long as I didn't move. Surgery was scheduled for the next day and, being reasonably late, there wasn't anything else to do expect close my eyes and try and get some sleep.
The next day, there was a bustle of activity around my bed as the nurses and orderlies prepared me for the big event. More injections, more wooziness, the rattle of wheels as they pushed or dragged my bed down the long corridors to the theatre. Why they call it a theatre I still have no idea as there's no movie or show on offer and certainly no popcorn - well at least not for the patient. As I lay in theatre, someone put a mask over my face and they asked me to count back from 10; I think I got to 8 and then there a short struggle as I tried to get the hell out of there and then, well that's in the next paragraph.
I woke up feeling drowsy and my thoughts went to Greenlane and I wondered how my sister was getting along. I knew that she would be in surgery by now and I knew the operation would take several hours. I hoped she was okay. I knew that my parents weren't okay and at one stage my mum had wanted the whole thing called off. But that's not how things played out. I recall a nurse saying something about my surgery having gone well but she could just as easily have been talking about bunnies as the drugs in my system played havoc with my attention span.
I flitted in and out of sleep until about late afternoon and when I finally got my shit together, upon enquiring, one of the nurses told me that they had let my parents know that things had gone well at this end. I asked if there was any news about my sister and they said that there wasn't.
They kept me in for another day or two before saying I could go home. I was still sore and the sharp ends of the stitches kept pricking into me. I still hadn't heard anything about Greenlane and nobody was talking. Upon my discharge, Uncle Dayal, a friend of the family came to pick me up from the hospital. This was unusual as I was expecting my dad. It turned out that he wasn't saying much either.
I got myself up into his truck and the bouncing around on the ride home made me grit my teeth. As he pulled up outside our place, I noticed lots of cars parked in our driveway and nearby outside. I slowly made my way towards the house and as I entered, I saw people loitering in the small hallway. The lounge was off to the right and there were lots of people sitting around. The mood was extremely sombre and I noticed the tears on my parents’ faces. Sitting next to them were two members of the Salvation Army with other friends of the family sitting or standing in our small lounge close by.
My mum caught sight of me and called me over to her where she hugged me tight and then with my dad. Once they let me go, they seemed to revert back into their own little world which drew more tears. By this stage I'd figured out that things hadn't gone well in Auckland. I also noticed that my other siblings weren't around and wondered where they were. I recall someone taking me aside and explaining that my sister hadn't survived the operation. I hung around for a little while talking quietly with people and eventually I excused myself to my bedroom as my side was throbbing and I was suddenly feeling very tired.
I would later learn that the operation had gone as expected but that she just didn't wake up. The specific details have remained fuzzy as I never seemed to get any answers from either parent. But sometimes, that's just the nature of grief carried by people. It would be some years later that I would also realise that this period was a turning point for my mum and the impact of this event would in some way resonate throughout the rest of her life.
Many years later, memories of this time would come flooding back as my other sister's little boy was due to go in for a heart operation; his plumbing was all out of whack as well. I recall my father mentioning that the lessons learned back from my little sister's operation would benefit this little boy. Not sure my mother would have accepted such a view for consolation. However, although still high risk, it seems such operations are more routine these days and this little boy's operation went well. Today, he is a fine young man making his mark on the world. Life goes on.
Thanks for stopping by and hope you enjoyed the story.
Don't forget to check out my other writings on my website and my books are available from the Amazon bookstore here.