Asthma and what came after

Monday, 23 March 2015
Gosh, it's been simply ages since I've posted. I've been a bit busy. Starting at a new uni, it not quite working, starting at a different uni, job hunting, house hunting, volunteering on the state election campaign, traffic snarls, political trouble both at home and abroad...but I've promised DH the second all those things go away, we'll have sex. (Except I'm writing this post first. Sorry, honey!).

Then there was the small matter of Baby G getting sick. He's always been a robust and healthy kid, not inheriting his father's skin and respiratory issues, and I thought if he didn't develop problems after living next to the coal trains in Newcastle for two years, he never would. So when he popped up one Saturday a couple weeks back with what seemed to be a bit of a cold, I wasn't too concerned. He was a bit lethargic but still cheerful; I rubbed his little chest with Vaporub, wrapped him warmly, planned to make a chicken soup he wouldn't eat.

But as the day wore on, his breathing became increasingly laboured. By evening, DH wanted to take him to hospital. I demurred; it was getting late, and cold, and surely Baby G was better off tucked up in his bed than sitting in emergency for hours on end? But in the end I deferred to the experience of asthmatic with a nursing degree, and we headed in to RPA, to be sent home with antibiotics for a respiratory tract infection after a boring few hours wait, I imagined.

In casualty, it was obvious his breathing was becoming very laboured, and we were taken straight through to the resus bay to monitor his oxygen levels. Despite the struggle to breathe, he was still Baby G, introducing himself to the doctors: "Hello, I' have a cold". He didn't have a fever or any other signs of infection, but the poor kid was panting like he was running a marathon and his blood oxygen was hovering around 90%. Hourly Ventolin was prescribed, and steroids, until he could be stabilised enough to be moved to the ward.

And yet he didn't seem sick. He wasn't scared or sad or fussing; he was fascinated by everything that was going on, asking nurses what their names were and what their job was and what that piece of equipment is called and what does it do. Then for us, there was nothing to do but wait. He was never in any real danger, and I was very grateful to be living in a country that (for now) provided this level of medical care for free. Finally, around about midnight, Baby G was admitted to the children's ward, DH stayed with him, and I headed home to grab a few hours sleep.

Next morning I arrived at the hospital to relieve DH with fresh clothes, Mr Bun, and a fully charged iPad. This was where the fun started. G looked much too well to be in hospital, but couldn't be discharged until he was stable on three-hourly Ventolin. There was a play room, but that soon wore thin for an active three year old who was soon demanding to "go...home...NOW!". When even unlimited iPad, a treat strictly forbidden at home, loses its thrill you know things are getting rough.

I have no parents of chronically ill children cope. None. I got a tiny little insight into their world, the world of hospitals and conditions and worry, and whilst I guess you just have to get on with your lot in life, seriously, props to those people. Hospitals are their own little universes, and even after one day, it was jarring to step outside after we were discharged back into the real world.

But anyway, there I was at 1pm being given the official diagnosis; my kid has asthma. It's not entirely a surprise; DH had multiple stays in hospital under an oxygen tent by Baby G's age. G has a much milder case than that, but we've still entered into the world of treatment plans and management and knowing when to call the ambulance. Oh, and those steroids I mentioned? They can lower his immunity. So now I'm one of those parents who is relying on heard immunity to protect my vaccinated child. So yeah, I've gone from vaccine skeptic, to individual rights, to "shut up and vaccinate your kids, you selfish dolt". But I'm lucky; I got to take my tired but basically okay kid home.

A couple of lovely people sent messages whilst we were in hospital, asking was I okay being at RPA. I was; separate wards and all. The staff were all lovely. But as for inspiring my administration have told me the deficiencies in my treatment when Baby G was born were because I "fell through the cracks", rather than gross cruelty and incompetence. We didn't see any cruelty, but as G was being discharged I noticed his weight was listed on his discharge papers as 10.2Kg. Now, he'd been weighed the night before at admission - and his weight was 18.2Kg. This wasn't a petty matter of accuracy like spelling his name right - his body weight is what they used to calculate the dosage of his medication and when I pointed out the error, his doses had to be reconfigured. Surely, surely a medical professional working with kids all day should notice that a kid weighs barely more than half of what he should, or that a tall, sturdy, fit three-and-a-half year old kid should weigh more than ten kilos? Some slipping through the cracks, I guess.

Anyway, G is fine now, usually pretty good at taking his meds and I've pimped out his puffer and spacer with stickers and such. And hopefully "Dad knew I needed to go to hospital but Mum just thought I had a cold" won't become an anecdote told at the 21st. Who'd be a parent, huh? I'm glad we're just doing this once. Probably. For now.

Can We Save These Two Lives?

Thursday, 5 March 2015
Very moving scenes from this morning's candlelight vigil in Canberra to save the lives of Andrew Chan and Muyuran Sukumaran. Some have lamented the amount of media attention these men are getting. "If only we paid this much attention to women killed by domestic violence." I for one am glad of the attention Chan and Sukumaran are getting - the face of a united Australia may be the best chance to convince the Indonesian government to save their lives.

But it's not a zero sum game; I also wish this much media attention was given to violence against women. The deaths of women at the hands of their partners is an unspeakable tragedy in Australia that we must start speaking about - 17 so far just this year; the latest the mother of a week-old baby allegedly killed with an axe by her ex-partner the day after she sought court protection from him (I'm a pretty hardened type and it takes a lot to shock me, but dear God).

So, how can we save the lives of the next two women who will be killed by their current or former partners - and the lives of all the women who will tragically follow?

We know almost nothing about these women. We don't know their education levels, income, whether they live in the city or rural or regional Australia, their ethnic background, their occupation, their religious affiliation. That's the thing about domestic violence; it cuts across all these factors, discriminating by absence against no group in society. We do know that these women have an average age in their 30s, and are more likely than the general female population to be pregnant at the time of their deaths. We can ask why they didn't leave, if they were so afraid, when in fact the act of leaving a violent relationship is the most dangerous time.

We don't know their names, we can't look at their photos, can't read of their accomplishments and the impact their lives have made on those around them; and that makes it that much harder to rally against the upcoming deaths of these women. We don't know if their deaths will come as the result of a stunning, unforeseen act of violence from a "lovely guy" who "just snapped"; or whether they are the culmination of years of terror, of court orders, of refuge stays, of police visits, of lives disrupted, of interstate moves to escape, of being followed, of despair that it will never end, of final moments of horror that it will end like this.

 But we know not a one of these deaths was in any way deserved. And we know, if we are to hold on to our vaunted status as a society of equality and value for human life, we have to prevent them. We have to try.

We are just starting to take this problem seriously as a community. The government announced it is funding a $30 million domestic violence awareness campaign; domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty named as Australian of the Year.

But does awareness do anything to stop the deaths. Where do we start with prevention? By addressing our violent culture - that we don't have an alcohol problem as much as we have a violence problem? Starting at the very beginning of the life cycle, by making it illegal for parents to hit their children, ending the very underpinning of our society that it is okay for the bigger, stronger person to hit a smaller, weaker person who disobeys and displeases them? (The latter has been something I have advocated for many years - and if you study the debates that were taking place around the time it became a crime for a man to hit his wife, the same objections were made as the objections we hear against banning smacking today - it is a private matter, it is my right, discipline, keeping society under control). Stiffer penalties? Measures designed to help victims, such as the Victorian law of defensive homicide, intended to be used in cases of sustained domestic violence that ended up being used largely by perpetrators, not victims?

I don't have all the answers. There is no repository of all the answers. We can but say "Do more. Try harder. Start now". There can be research grants, laws, a royal commission. In the meantime, women we don't know will die. I wish I could end on a note of hope. There may even be a final slim hope for Chan and Sukumaran, but can we save the lives of the women we never knew.
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