I have hair all over my front, as if I’ve been holding a very long-haired cat. Yes, the great hairfall has begun. I know it grows back, but I’m facing months of baldness and I don’t like it one bit. It’s funny, you can be facing a monumental threat to your life but you can still be angsting about the hairs on your head, the most dispensable bits of your anatomy. Liver, stomach, lungs, heart, brain … these are the real engine-rooms of life, not hair. But hair is all about the face in the mirror, the face in the street, the face at the supermarket checkout. The absence of hair is a public marker. My hair is falling and I’m slowly falling, falling down the rabbit hole.
But as I lose hair, I gain scarves and hats. My friend Helen has brought around a big bag of them. My sister Deb has a wig (from the days of her own chemo for breast cancer) that is apparently a bit Chrissy Amphlett and she didn’t like wearing it, but it’s sounding good to me. Looking forward to trying it on.
Now, Medicare. I just want to take a moment to sing the praises of universal health care. There’s a lot that doesn’t work, that I don’t like, about our society, but Medicare is something I do like. Fervently support, never take for granted, fear for. As we know, the Abbott government is eyeing it off, saying we can’t afford it. It’s true that this health system is, compared to that available to most people in the world, extraordinary, and extraordinarily expensive. When I go in for surgery in April or May, I’m going to have a gynaecological oncologist at one end of the operating table and an upper gastrointestinal tract specialist at the other. I may even have a colo-rectal specialist on standby. Three specialists, among the best there is, all working their diaries so they can be there at the same time to slice out my tumours. There’s a great big pile of money right there. And yet there’s not a whisper of the expense. It’s all taken care of. This care is, in principle, equally available to anyone who shows up with similar problems. Nobody looks up from the computer and says, well, how much money do you have in the bank? Can you mortgage your house? Do you have rich relatives? Reading through cancer blogs written in the United States is heart-breaking. These are real questions in that country. Serious illness can bankrupt people, force them to sell houses, make them decide they can’t afford to be treated. Barack Obama has been trying to change this, but he’s had to fight the lunatic right raving about the threat of socialism – communism! – contained in universal health care. (And yet they’re quite happy to let taxpayers fund their universal military “care”.)
I remember back in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher saying there was no such thing as society. Just individuals and their families. Society shouldn’t be asked to look after you; you and your family will have to see to that. As I lay in hospital a few weeks ago, I watched the nurses coming and going, making beds, checking blood pressure and temperature, helping elderly people go to the toilet. That is society. As simple as that. Here in Australia we don’t have to be well off, or anything special, to be looked after in hospital. Long may it continue.
On the other hand, there’s hospital food … okay, I’ll leave that for another post.