Murphy puts the Frighteners
I can't finish a book about Murphy without telling you about
my bypass. He's had a few fiddles with my body over the years;
a cartilage in the right knee; mature-age tonsils; another cartilage
-this time in my left knee - and tendonitis in a foot but nothing
drastic until the old ticker started to give a few twinges when
I did anything like exercise.
When they discovered I had blocked arteries and needed open heart
surgery I worried a bit about how my friend Murphy would react
to this challenge. As soon as I got home from hospital, I decided
to record the experience while the memory was still fresh and
here is what I wrote:
DIARY OF A BY-PASS
THURSDAY, 26th January, 1995 Australia Day.
The phone rings. After eight months of waiting it is Angela from
the Monash Medical Centre asking if I can come in for my Coronary
By-pass operation the following Tuesday. "Ring the 'Bed
Bureau' at eleven and come in between two and three." I
can't believe it's really happening. She apologises for ringing
from home on a public holiday but says it's because the time
was so short. I went to Dandenong this morning and borrowed a
caravan from Scenic for the weekend so she was lucky to catch
us at home.
(It was a lovely weekend and everyone at the Division 1 Rally
of the RACV Caravan Club wished me well for the op. with their
leader, Bob Frankish, showing me his by-pass scar and assuring
me I wouldn't regret joining the 'Zipper Club'.)
TUESDAY, 31st January, 1995
I get back from last minute shopping after making sure there
are enough supplies to keep my wife Vi and Mum going for the
next week when they will be busy travelling to and fro from Mornington
to Clayton every day to visit me in hospital. Remembering I have
to ring the hospital at eleven I get home at ten-thirty to find
Vi shaking her head and saying they had already rung and an emergency
had taken my place. Bitter disappointment coupled with relief
that I am not the emergency case. This will be one of the longest
TUESDAY, 7th February. 1995
Shopping again and home by ten-thirty. "Have they rung yet?"
"No." Oh boy this is going to be a long half-hour.
At twenty minutes to eleven the phone rings Vi takes a
look at me and answers it. It is just a friend calling. Vi realises
I'm not quite as composed and brave as I make out. Another ring
at ten to eleven but it's still not them.
I steel myself to wait until after eleven to ring. At three minutes
past I dial the number and hold my breath. "Yes we
have a bed for you. Come in between one and one-thirty."
They have changed the time from last week but who cares
I'm off at last. Daughter Jackie picks the three of us up, Vi,
Mum and me, and we head for Clayton. We are on time, I fill out
a few forms and we sit and wait. And wait and wait. Eventually
a little Asian lady comes to guide us to the ward where they
had been waiting for a bed to become vacant.
I'm in a four-bed ward next to the shower. Karl in the next bed
introduces himself and tells us about his crook leg. He keeps
insisting that Jackie take his overbed table and sit on it but
she says she is fine standing.
Nothing happens for ages and the family leave after a talk with
the nursing staff about what will happen next day and when a
menu comes for dinner I decide to go for the lot as I'm to fast
from midnight and can't imagine wanting to eat for days after
A succession of people come to see me. An anaesthetist; another
anaesthetist; Dr Bernadette Wise, the surgeon who will be assisting
Mr Shardy (my heart surgeon); another surgeon a pleasant
and handsome Indian doctor with the hard to remember name of
Shabir Akbarally who will be working on my leg to obtain a vein
while the others open my chest and Craig, a physiotherapist,
who explains at great length what will happen after the operation
to get me back into shape again.
Questions, examinations, more questions and information followed
by a long walk to get my chest x-rayed.
A nurse tries to hook me up to an ECG machine but it keeps telling
her my right arm connection is faulty. I explain that I have
a bad effect on things electronic (Murphy!) and she calls
for help from another nurse who is successful first time.
Sometime during the busy evening I'm introduced to Mr Brenner
from Frankston who is number two for a by-pass next day after
me. He and I are both taken to watch a video presentation that
tells all the things we have already been told and the video
production is shocking with so much background noise you can't
hear the dialogue. My 'Electronic Effect' makes the VCR play
up as well. (Murphy again!) A group of nurses enters the
room and are surprised to find us there. The video ends and we
are left and seemingly forgotten. We talk for a while and eventually
wander out to remind someone of our existence.
Next a visit to the Intensive Care Unit where we see where we
will end up straight after the op. Everything is electronic and
I try to forget my effect (and Murphy's!) on such devices.
Back to the ward for a shave. The other three men in the ward
have settled for the night and their lights are out. The cordless
clipper is very noisy and I retreat to the shower to try to get
all the hair off my body. I'm warned that a cardiac surgeon who
is sent a patient for surgery with body hair still attached is
not a pretty sight. I scrape diligently and by peering through
my bifocals believe I've removed it all. Next a shower and shampoo
with some special stuff in a little bottle. There is nowhere
handy for the bottle and it drops off the chair without breaking
or spilling too much liquid. The shaving has made my skin very
tender but at last it's done and I get into bed to wait for 'hair
inspection' by the nurse. I pass muster and settle down.
They are waking me just after five to give me pre-med and to
have another shower so I need a good night's rest.(Murphy
had other thoughts about this!)
It's after midnight now and my mind is full of doubts. Should
I be going through with this op? Has anyone ever pulled out at
this late stage?
All operations have an element of risk and this is a major one.
Over the months they have tried to reassure with statistics
"This is now a very successful and common operation with
a better that 95% success rate." Don't they mean, "Unfortunately
5% of people don't make it through this op?"
I know that many of the 5% have other health problems and I am
in great shape apart from my arteries, but I've written a list
of things that should be done if I don't make it home and put
it among my library books where it will eventually be found if
the worst happens. Vi and I talked about the risk element but
I didn't want to give her unnecessary worry.
I doze and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Karl in the next bed
who is hooked up to all manner of tubes and life-saving devices
is out of bed and raving. The nurses come to get him back but
he shouts at them in a guttural German accent, "DON'T TOUCH
ME!" and "KEEP AWAY."
Security is sent for but before anyone arrives Karl quietens
down after a nurse gives him something and rings his wife to
let him talk to her. The morphine he had received for his pain
had sent him on a bad trip and eventually everything is quiet
again with him gently talking to his wife for ages.
I go into a restless sleep.
WEDNESDAY, 8th February, 1995.
The glaring lights come on and I struggle to open my leaden eyes.
"Here you are swallow these little pills and get your
shower. You can have a little doze then before we give you your
injection and they take you to the
theatre." I shower and
climb back into bed.
This really is it no more doubts, it's going to be OK.
I sleep and then I'm in a very light room. My chest hurts so
the operation must have been done! I've never been so thirsty
in my life. I try to ask for a drink but can't talk because there
is a tube down my throat. A voice from somewhere asks if I would
like to be 'sucked out'. I try to nod and then I feel a strange
sensation as a suction pipe clears gunk from around the insides
of my mouth.
Ah nectar a blessed, cool, wet feeling as a moist
something is gently squeezed around my mouth. This happens again
a few times and then a voice tells me I am to go to the ward
today and can have some breakfast. "What time is it?"
I ask. "Eight o'clock." I try to work out why I would
be getting breakfast at eight o'clock at night and then it dawns
that it's morning. Which morning? Nothing adds up. Suddenly it
hits me I had actually asked out loud what time it was
so that horrible tube has gone. I am dry maybe I can have
THURSDAY, 9th February, 1995
The early hours of this day are merged with yesterday but I'm
now in a ward hooked up to what seems like dozens of pipes and
wires. Drains from my inside gurgle through what sounds like
a fish-tank. An ECG constantly monitors my heart rhythm, a catheter
keeps my bladder drained, there are drains in my neck, pacemaker
wires from my heart are bundled under a dressing on my stomach
and an IV drip is ready to infuse anything needed into my veins.
I'm on oxygen and a fairly musical sound is heard that means
I'm not breathing enough for myself and the oxygen level in my
blood is low. I'm told to breathe more every time I hear that
sound. I get to hate it as it hurts to breath deeply.
They give me something for the pain and also something for nausea.
Various things are injected from time to time I don't know
what they are but the nurses seem extra gentle, caring and professional.
I drink my apple juice and pick at my breakfast. They have tied
a strong rope to the bottom of the bed to pull on to sit up but
boy it still hurts like blazes. It's lovely to drink when
you want as my throat is so dry.
The family Vi and Mum and daughters Jackie and Sue arrive.
It's great to see them and they are let in to the bedside two
at a time. Sue squeezes my hand and Jackie hugs my shoulders.
I can feel the love and concern flowing between us and wonder
what I've done to deserve such wonderful children as these. Vi
and Mum come in and I get the same warm feeling. Life IS great
and I've been given a chance to live fully again once I get out
Lunch arrives and I pick at a piece of fish. I'm not interested
in food. In fact I'm interested in very little today maybe
a good night's sleep will make things better tomorrow. Craig,
the physio, comes and makes me turn on my side, breathe and cough.
Go away Craig that hurts. He does go eventually after another
try at the coughing business.
The rest of the day passes I must have dozed I suppose
but the fish never slept. It repeats over and over and I ask
for a Zantac, "You can't have it as it wasn't ordered!"
"I have two a day at home!" "Sorry not ordered."
"They said it would be OK as everyone is put on them here."
"Sorry." "Please ask the doctor," I plead
as the fish starts another lap of my stomach. They must have
found a doctor because here is the Zantac and I can put that
darn fish to rest.
My bum hurts. More than the wounds and everything else, my right
buttock is driving me mad. I can't get off it or turn and the
pain is constant. I don't know if it's the hard bed or the position
I must have been in on the operating table.
A visit from Mr Shardy the surgeon who did the job. Shabir is
with him and they make remarks about typical, bronchial lungs
and swollen ankles, hands, etc. oedema I think is what
they call it and then they ask how much I'm drinking.
That does it. I should have only been given a half-jug of water
and not a full one. I've hogged most of the jug and it is taken
away without even a swallow left for the night. I tell Mr Shardy
his beds are hard and hurt my bum but he only laughs and points
out I have plenty of flesh there. Despite his unconcern about
my behind, I thank him sincerely for the job he has done on me
I really am thankful to the whole team involved although
he is obviously the most important member.
The rest of the day passes and it's time to sleep. I have painkillers
and a sleeping pill but I see the night sister with her torch
every time she creeps in to check my dripping and draining. A
lady is having breathing problems and is crying out. Someone
has interfered with the clock and the hands only crawl. I ask
for another pain shot. It's my bum that is so sore. I find I
can ball my fist and push it under my behind to relieve the pressure
on the sore spot. This is fine for a bit but my efforts dislodge
the IV drip.
"Do you have good veins?" the sister asks and when
I say they are always lousy and more so because of the oedema,
she is relieved that a doctor is visiting the ward on other business.
He takes a look and asks for the red strap. There are plenty
of other coloured straps there but they find him the red one
and he puts the drip into the bend of my elbow with no trouble.
It is not a good spot as I can't relieve my aching rump any more
but eventually I doze until the checks before staff changeover
which must have been around six am.
FRIDAY, 10th February, 1995
"You can get out of bed and eat breakfast!" says the
nurse as she gives me a blanket bath. Out of bed already
that's good. Getting out is another things but I make it and
enjoy the food a bit better sitting in a chair.
Another physio sees me has me walking on the spot and then
asks for the dreaded cough. I try. And try again. "That's
just clearing your throat," she says in a derogatory tone.
If you knew the pain lady, you would be more sympathetic. I'm
not feeling fit enough to tell her what I think of her attitude
which is just as well as I know she is only trying to help in
I'm still out of bed when the family arrives and again it's great
to see them. I'm still not very interested in life outside the
hospital walls don't want TV or papers and don't even bother
with music on the handpiece at the bedside.
Later they come to take the tubes out. These are the drains into
your insides and nothing has prepared you for this ghastly sensation.
"Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in and hold it."
"One, two, three," say the nurses and smoothly withdraw
what appear to be un-ending tubes that must somehow have become
attached to your intestines. "Breathe away they are
I have to get my chest x-rayed again to see that no air got in
as the tubes came out but this time I do the trip in a wheel-chair.
Mr Brenner joined us in the ward today. They couldn't do him
after me on Wednesday and so he is a day behind. He looks like
I felt yesterday.
Once the tubes are out it's all headway and I feel better as
the day passes. I even get to walk to the bathroom where I shower
sitting in a chair. Night again and once again it's broken and
fitful with someone in the room in trouble during the night
I think it's Ruth as she has been a smoker for more than fifty
years and now has breathing problems after her by-pass.
SATURDAY. 11th February, 1995
I feel heaps better today and am pleased to get up for breakfast.
I don't seem to have as many connections as before and in a while
they come in and say I can take out the rotten oxygen gadget
that has been hurting my nose for days.
A nurse tells me I can go for a shower and I find I can stand
up for it today. This is real progress and I feel great after
"Come on you are moving," says a nurse and I
walk to another ward with three men in it. My bed and locker
follow and I meet my fellow room-mates Ron next to me has
had a blocked artery in his leg replaced and is on the mend while
Chas diagonally opposite has numerous problems including the
after-effects of a mild stroke. The man opposite is not awake
and was to remain that way for most of my stay.
No more wires or tubes inside my body and I'm free to move around.
They are keeping a wary eye on my drinking and measuring all
fluids in and out. I'm surprised to find jelly is counted as
a fluid as is the soup. They measure the contents of my 'bottle'
and I must use it even though I can now walk to the toilet.
I walk to the end of the corridor with the family as they leave
and count this a milestone. I'm still not interested in reading
or the telly but do a few crosswords Vi has thoughtfully provided.
I find Ron and Chas are both 'poms' like me and we find a lot
to chat about. Ron is running a book and giving odds on who will
go home first and has me the favourite with Chas tied with Ron
for second place.
Dr Wise this morning said a physio would take me for a walk right
around the ward passages today but as no-one comes, I do a lap
Bedtime my Zantac arrives without any problem although
today I've enjoyed my food with no indigestion or heartburn.
It's another long night. With wires keeping my chest together
it doesn't take much movement in bed to start things aching again
despite the painkillers and sleeping pills.
Every time I awake I can hear distant music not clearly
enough to recognise tunes but there somewhere. Is it in my head?
I try over and over to think who the singer was who sang with
The Seekers after Judith Durham. Not Louise Wisserling
the other one. The one who had show biz parents. Can't think
of their names but they both had TV shows. If only I could think
of her name. The question goes around and around in my brain
if only I could think of the name I could break this merry-go-round
my mind has got itself into. I doze at last with the question
SUNDAY, 12th February 1995.
Feeling better still this morning. The music came from the handset
of the bed opposite he hadn't turned it off properly and
the elusive Seekers member was just a figment of my drugged imagination
as the only answer would have been Karen Knowles who has no show-business
parents as far as I know.
When the family arrive I'm out of bed and giving cheek. Vi and
Mum are with Sue today as Jackie is tired after the solid taxying
job she has done in the heat all week. I tell Vi that people
can ring if they like as I'm well enough to answer the phone.
Son Chris in Adelaide has been very anxious and has been in touch
with Vi throughout. He is coming over for a couple of weeks when
I get home to act as chauffeur while I still have my wings clipped
and am not allowed to drive. Lots of people have rung Vi and
wished me well and it's lovely to know you have so many people
who care about you.
Chris rings just before dinner and I tire myself a bit having
a nice long talk with him. I didn't have any pain-killers during
the day and after the phone call my blood oxygen saturation was
low due to shallow breathing as it hurt to breathe deeply. "You
will have to go back on oxygen after tea," says the nurse.
Not if I can help it. I concentrate on breathing properly after
tea and the next reading was fine.
Another long night. I get up at four am and paddle along to the
nurse's station to get some pain-killers. They have their backs
to me and I start talking before I reach the girls on duty as
I don't want to frighten them. Back to bed and pleased when activity
MONDAY, 13th February, 1995.
Drs Wise and Shabir come in with a heart surgeon from Brisbane
who is coming to work at Monash Medical Centre. Dr Wise has been
in most mornings and nights and today she has great news. "You
are doing very well and we will probably let you go home tomorrow
morning." I'm thrilled to have made such progress and tell
everyone I see. She said she would confirm it tonight.
This is the day my stockings to prevent thrombosis arrive and
what awkward things they are to put on. The nurse helps me with
them and asks if I want to go down to the cafeteria with the
family who have just arrived. Dr Wise said to walk as much as
possible so off I go. It's the furthest yet but great to be mobile.
In the lift an orderly gets in and cheerfully says, "Good
morning ladies." "Don't include me just because I'm
wearing stockings," I joke. He tells me not to let my pals
see me wearing them.
Today I'm pleased to borrow Ron's paper and watch a movie on
his TV. It hurts my neck to look at his screen but I see enough
to keep my interest.
Where is Dr Wise tonight? I ask a nurse to see if the doctor
is still on the ward as I had spotted her earlier. She comes
back to say Dr Wise has just left for the night. "Oh dear
she was going to confirm that I can go home in the morning."
A little later a nurse comes back with a sheet of paper and says
there's some query and I won't go till the following day. I worry
about what this could be and again have a fitful night.
TUESDAY, 14th February, 1995.
Drs Wise and Shabir arrive early and she apologises for not getting
back to me. I tell her I had been disappointed and she explains
that an urgent case in ICU had needed her presence. "Will
you let me off if I tell you you can go home this morning?"
she asks. Of course I will but I mention the query of the
night before. She says there was no query, Mr Shardy had reviewed
my case and was very pleased and everything was fine. She also
told me not to hesitate and to ring her from home if I have any
questions or problems and I wonder how these doctors can be so
busy and yet find time to be so caring.
I start packing a few things and Brenden, a new physio, arrives.
He asks if I want to do a Cardiac Rehabilitation Course at Frankston
and then charges off with me in pursuit to see if I can climb
stairs. I satisfy him and get back to the ward wanting to get
showered before the family arrive. Jackie has an infected throat
so Sue is taking time off work to take me home.
I get showered and packed, go and say goodbye to Mr Brenner and
Ruth who are still in the high dependency ward and then we are
told my bed is needed urgently so would we mind waiting in the
Transit Lounge for my supply of medications before discharge.
'Transit Lounge'? Sounds more like an airport to me.
Goodbye to Ron and Chas. Chas has had bad news he's not
going home but to the Kingston Centre for three weeks. I'm certainly
the lucky one.
Although I walked there yesterday, today I'm wheeled in a wheel-chair
down to the Transit Lounge where we wait a while for my pills
Out into the sunshine at last and into the car. Is it really
happening? Is it all behind me now? Boy it's great to be 'on
the outside'! The medical and nursing staff could not have been
more professional and caring but it's good to be with your own
folks heading for your own home.
It's funny everything looks the same as before when we
arrive home. Did I really expect things to look different after
what I've been through?
I'll stop this diary today as from now on it will be a slow and
steady progress but already I know I'm going to feel better than
I have for years.
It all started a long time ago with a gradual deterioration in
health and drive followed by pains in the shoulder-blades whenever
I walked fast. I play in a brass band and nearly collapsed twice
while marching with them.
Our local doctor, Dr Nicola Martin, first suspected Angina more
than eighteen months ago and tests proved her diagnosis right.
After referral to Cardiologist, Dr Roger Redston, a stress test
and later angiogram showed up three significantly blocked coronary
arteries and when they operated last week they found there were
actually four that needed replacing.
I'll see Dr Nicky on Thursday and tell her that her good work,
followed by that of so many other dedicated health professionals,
has given me the chance to live a longer and much richer life.
I'm grateful to everyone who was involved on the health side
and especially to my family for their love and support throughout."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
That was written more than eleven years ago and, as I forecast
then, my health has continued to improve and I'm so pleased Murphy
eventually allowed everything to work out so well after giving
me such a large fright at the time.
There have been Murphys in Australia since the first settlement
but I doubt if they were in any way related to my pesky nemesis
and all the clones claimed by so many other people we meet. Barry
greets me with, "I've got a 'Murphy' for you!" Others
write to say, "You and your b..... Murphy guess what
he did to us at Albury (or somewhere else)," Then there
was the lady in Adelaide who told me she lived with Murphy because
she was married to him. At least she has a choice!
I feel sorry for people like my wife who claim not to believe
in him she reckons it's all clumsiness or carelessness
but we know better don't we?
If you're reading this ebook you will know I've outsmarted him
for once but don't bet money on it he's probably rubbing
his hands in anticipation. Did I tell you how he loves printing
presses and computers?