Being thankful

24 12 2020

Every Christmas I take a moment to reflect on what I’m thankful for. This year, one thing stands out above ALL others because without it, there wouldn’t be a lot to be thankful for. What is it? Politicians! (Yes, really!)

Politicians who put the good of their country and its people above all else, and who take science seriously. Specifically, the decision by Australia’s politicians, especially Western Australia’s Premier, Mark McGowan, to go hard, go strong, and go early on dealing with COVID-19, and to be transparent about why, and with a united bipartisan approach, at least early on.

Locking down our borders (international, interstate, and intrastate) has saved countless lives, and continues to do so (Western Australia has gone more than 250 days with NO community transmission [yet] and Australia’s total death toll from COVID in the past 9 months is around 1000 [see below for comparisons], with 800+ of those from the Victorian outbreak alone). We’ve also been incredibly lucky, but early and tough decisions had a lot to do with that luck too, and that can’t be ignored, especially in light of how other countries are coping (or not) as a result of their decisions or lack of decision, or decisions that were countermanded or were ignored by too many of the population.

In addition, the federal govt’s stimulus package of $750 per week (for 6 months) for ALL employees of companies whose turnover dropped by 30% or more meant that the unemployment rate was nowhere near as high as it could have been. And the increase in payments to those who were unemployed helped them pay their bills. While some of these measures and eligibility may have changed, the fact that they were there for the first 6 months helped keep an awful lot of people from going under. Added to that our nationwide healthcare system, which prevents almost all Australians from going bankrupt just because they get sick.

Some industries, businesses, and individuals and families have been hit very hard, and may never recover. Other industries are booming—I heard some $40 billion each year was spent on travel by Australians, much of it overseas travel. For those who still have jobs, that money is now being saved or paid off the mortgage, or being spent on other big ticket items, such as upgrading cars, houses, etc. Sales of new and used cars have gone through the roof, and the building industry (new builds, renos) is inundated with work. Other industries have benefited too, such as IT companies helping businesses and individuals set up for working from home, anyone who makes perspex screens, courier and delivery companies. After an initial rocky start, local tourism has benefited too, with people holidaying at home and discovering the wonders of their own state.

But in the grand scheme of things, the measures taken back in March/April have kept us safe and in a bubble of ‘normality’ (for example, I haven’t worn a face mask since March/April and nor has anyone else in my state—yet).

Those measures taken 9 months ago bought us time—time to assess, time to recover, time to implement measures that needed time to prove successful in other jurisdictions, and time for a vaccine to be developed.

Comparisons, using death rate per 1 million people as at 23 December 2020 (figures from:

  • UK: 1018 deaths per million
  • US: 985 per million
  • Sweden: 819 per million (by comparison, Norway is at 77 per million)
  • Canada: 387 per million
  • Australia: 35 per million
  • New Zealand: 5 per million

And with that, I wish you all as festive a season as possible, under what for many—especially my family and friends in the US—will be a really difficult time.

(And right when I was finishing this, Santa just came up the street on the back of the local fire truck, siren blaring, giving out lollies to the kids! It’s 35C in the shade right now and even hotter in the sun where he is—he must be boiling in that suit!)

A musical childhood, with dog and a kind nun

14 12 2020

I was chatting via email with a good friend in the US earlier today and something came up about music (he’s a professional muso as well as a retired programmer). I mentioned something about having forgotten the music theory I learned way back when, which prompted him to ask me how I knew about music. Which then got me delving into the memory banks of my childhood growing up in a small country town in Western Australia (about 800 people), where the only people who taught music were the nuns from the local Catholic school. I didn’t go to that school, but I did music lessons (classical piano) after school at the manse.

I did piano lessons with the nuns from about age 7 until I was about 13 or so, and with that I had to sit the AMEB (Australian Music Examination Board) exams in practical and theory. From memory, we had to go to Bunbury (big town!) once a year to perform our practical examination on a grand piano on stage at the Railways Institute, with the examiners, parents, and other students sitting in the audience (it was TERRIFYING, even though the audience was very small). I can’t remember how the theory exams were administered. I think I got to about Grade 6 in practical and about Grade 5 in theory. You had to have at least Grade 7 at both to get your AMusA (pron. ay-muss-ay) to enter into the music program at high school and/or university.

I remember almost NONE of the music theory now, though I can still draw a treble clef without hesitation 😊 (and yes, I just drew one just now to test that I still could!). And I haven’t played piano for the past 30 years, though if you put me in front of a piano now, I MIGHT be able to knock out the first few bars of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’! I had my piano from childhood until about 1990, when I moved and there was no space for it. I lent it to my sister for my niece to use (my niece was quite musically talented—she went on to play cello and sing). Unfortunately, my sister and her husband were doing renovations and put the piano out in a covered area near their pool. A big storm came and the piano got badly water damaged and destroyed. Such a shame—it was an old German piano, with a wrought-iron frame. In the right light, you could see patches in the beautifully polished walnut panels that showed where candlestick holders had been, so it was likely from the 1890s or thereabouts, perhaps even earlier.

Back to the nuns…

The music room at the manse was at the end of a corridor. A door opened to an outside staircase to allow the music students to come and go without going through the manse. If someone hadn’t finished their lesson, you waited at the top of the stairs until they came out—you never went into the manse except to the music room. Most of nuns who taught music were absolute harridans. One was particularly vengeful and nasty—if you played a bum note, she hit you with a steel ruler, edge side down and then you were expected to play it note perfect even though your hands were screaming in agony. Classical piano wasn’t easy to play at the best of times and kids don’t have a very large hand span to stretch to make all the notes in the chords.

I clearly remember one lovely nun—Sister Bride—who was young and kind. My boxer dog, Cassie, used to try to follow me to my music lessons after school, and mostly I could tell her to go home and she would. But one day she just wouldn’t. Having a dog at the manse was a huge no-no, so Sister Bride made sure she shut the door to the outside stairs so that Cassie could stay on the landing until I’d finished. Sister Bride must’ve heard the rattle of the Mother Superior’s rosary one day and realised that I’d be in trouble for having Cassie there, so she called Cassie inside into the music room and hid her under her habit!!!! A minute or so later, Mother Superior poked her nose into the music room to see if all was OK. Sister Bride and I giggled a lot after she left. Cassie was a good girl and didn’t make a sound under the full habit of Sister Bride (the nuns were ‘brown joeys’—sisters of St Joseph, who wore dark brown, full-length habits, and a full pristine white wimple). Sister Bride left not long after that —I really don’t think she was cut out to be a nun—and I have no idea what happened to her. The rest of the nuns were either unmemorable or were nasty bitches who didn’t like kids much.

Follow-up to cataract and laser surgery

12 12 2020

For background as to how I got to here, see my previous posts on:

I went to the new optometrist (recommended by my ophthalmologist) yesterday. He spent a good hour or so with me and I had tests and images taken of my eyes that I’d never had before. One used a concave instrument with a heap of concentric circles, and was used to assess the curvature of my cornea. I felt very comfortable with him and he ‘got’ the issues I had with living with a strabismus my whole life. Other optometrists have sort of ignored my voice on that.

Bottom line: With prism lenses (one vertical, one horizontal), he reckons that he should be able to correct my wonky vision to about 75 to 80%—he said nothing external will get me to 100%. That’s much better than I currently have, and if the new glasses are as good as the tests yesterday would indicate, they should help with my medium- to long-distance vision (TV watching, driving). He also did some testing for glasses for computer work, but we won’t go there just yet—the magnifiers seem to work OK, and I can zoom in for most programs. However, because I’ll have two different prisms, I still need to be careful driving and watching TV—scrunching up in the recliner will be out as I need to sit straight to get the full effect. And for driving, I’ll need to be careful at T-junctions and do a full turn of the head for the ‘look left, look right, look left again’ procedure.

Oh, and to add to the mix, the curvature on my corneas is different, and likely has been all my life, contributing to my wonky vision. The left one is relatively normal and smooth, but the right one showed a ‘butterfly’ shape on the retinal image, indicating that it’s a bit wavy on the external edge, resulting in the image splitting as it goes to my retina. Lenses are one culprit for this splitting too, but as I have new lenses now (as a result of the cataract surgery), that’s ruled out. So with the wavy edge on the cornea, it’s possible I may need to have further surgery to correct that, as indicated by my ophthalmologist earlier this month. But we’ll see how the glasses go and see what he says at my next appointment in 6 months’ time. (BTW, ophthalmologist is a bloody hard word to type!)

Update 4 January 2021: I popped into the optometrist today for him to formally put the script through so that I can take advantage of this year’s medical rebates. I asked him to test my eyes again, as I believed they had gotten worse in the 3 weeks since I saw him. They had. He had to increase the prism effect in the right eye from 1 to 2 (whatever that means).

Update 29 January 2021: I picked up my new glasses yesterday. They made a little bit of difference, but not a lot. The optometrist told me not to wear them that day, but to start afresh tomorrow. I only need them for medium to long distance activities/views, so I won’t wear them for computer work. In fact, wearing them at the computer was worse than using my magnifiers. I did try them while watching TV last night and the vision with and without was very similar—not a lot of difference, and certainly not a 75% improvement… maybe 10%? I just put them on now (afternoon) to look at the view in the distance, and they do make a bit a difference, perhaps a 25% improvement on looking at that same view without classes. Again, certainly not a 75% difference. The optometrist asked me to wear them for 10 days and if I didn’t notice much improvement to come back. I told him that I certainly didn’t want to be coming back every month or so for new glasses! Meantime, I had to pop into the ophthalmologist’s rooms to correct some info from the optometrist, and I was able to bring forward my June appointment to mid-February, just a few days after I go back to the optometrist. By then, I’ll know if the glasses have helped, and/or if my vision is worse than it was in December and January, and the optometrist will have sent his results through. The optometrist said the corneal work that might have to be done would likely be something called a corneal ablation, something that takes about 30 mins in the specialist’s rooms (in Perth), with most of that being prep time. I’m not sure I’m happy with the idea of more eye surgery, but I’m certainly not liking the deterioration in my vision.

Update 16 February 2021: I went back to the optician late last week and to the ophthalmologist yesterday. The prism lenses in the glasses have certainly helped with driving by reducing the ghost images and making things clearer (a BIG bonus!). However, there’s still minimal difference between wearing the glasses and not wearing them when I watch TV. The ophthalmologist said that the corneal images didn’t indicate that any corneal surgery would help as he believes this is all still related to the strabismus. Essentially and in lay terms, he said my eyes have never played well together, with each competing against the other for dominance. The dominance is an order of magnitude measured in millimetres or less, but it means that my eyes are in constant conflict, resulting in images that go in and out of focus in mere seconds and parts of seconds. He didn’t think that further strabismus surgery would help either. He did offer to refer me to someone for a second opinion, but I trust his judgement on this. The bottom line is that it may take some months for my brain to adjust to the new ‘abnormal’ of the glasses and the lenses from the cataract surgery, and that he doesn’t predict further deterioration. He recommended that I see the optician again in 12 months’ time and if my eyesight has deteriorated further to get a new referral back to him. The real bottom line that I took away (my words, not his) is that this is it and not much else can be done for me. (One other thing he mentioned when I said how bad my grandmother must have had it—her eyes were quite divergent by the time she was 90, with one looking at the ceiling while the other looked at you—was that in some ways she may have been better off because her brain would’ve ignored the messages coming from the wonky eye and only processed those from the ‘normal’ eye. In my case, both eyes want control of my brain.)