My eyes: Living with strabismus

27 09 2020

Warning: Very long post, and likely only relevant to those with an eye condition called ‘strabismus’. I wrote it to document my life living with this eye condition, and to provide background information to my ophthalmologist. I am NOT involved in the medical profession, and this is NOT a medical column. Please see an optician or eye specialist for anything to do with your eyes.

For more information on strabismus, see:

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Something’s wrong

I was raised in a small Western Australian country town. Everyone in the town knew pretty much everyone else, and because we were the only bakers in town, my family knew everybody, including all the teachers. At school, my best friend and I vied for first and second spot in the class throughout our entire primary school lives, and fittingly, after such a long rivalry, shared equal dux of the school at the end of Grade 7, our final year of primary school. I turned 12 that December.

The reason I mention my class position is that one of my teachers in the latter years of primary school sat the ‘bright kids’ at the back of the room, where we could get on with our work relatively unsupervised while he kept a close eye on the ‘naughty kids’ that he seated at the front of the classroom. My memory of this is a little hazy, but it seems there was a relief teacher and I’d left my seat to go closer to the blackboard to read what was on it and I got growled at. Mum says she’s pretty sure that I complained about getting into trouble at school (I NEVER got into trouble… yeah, I was that kid) and asked me why. She talked with my usual teacher and realised that my eyes might need checking.

Early testing

We lived a good hour and half’s drive from Perth, which is where the optician that my parents and grandparents used had his rooms. Whoever I saw said that he couldn’t do much for me until I’d seen a specialist (I presume an ophthalmologist). And so began the long trek to and from Perth, every Tuesday I think. It seemed like it went on for months, but as a kid you have no sense of time, so it might have only been a few weeks or even just a couple of visits. I can’t recall much of which specialists I saw or what was discussed, but I clearly remember having several sessions with an orthoptist. Why do I remember those visits? Because, among other things, I had to put birds in cages and they kept jumping out! Let me explain… One of the instruments the orthoptist used at that time was something that enclosed your head and that you peered into. Everything was black except for lit outline images of a distant bird and a cage—possibly one image for the left eye and one for the right, though I can’t recall the details. I had to hold onto some controls and adjust them until the bird was in the cage (i.e. combining the two images my eyes were seeing into one). I’d do that, the orthoptist would record the result, and then seconds later, the bird would be outside the cage again WITHOUT ME TOUCHING THE CONTROLS. My eyes couldn’t settle and hold that image, and I’d have to do it again. And again. And again. I’m sure there were other tests too, but I clearly remember putting that damned bird in the cage and it jumping out again!

After all these tests, someone at some point said I needed to have an eye operation. I doubt I was part of that discussion, but as a kid of 11 or 12, that’s not surprising.

My first eye operation

No-one really told me what was going to happen in surgery—it was something vague like ‘stretching the muscles on the inside of the eyes to match the strength of the muscles on the outside of the eyes’. What my young brain processed was that my inner eye muscles were too strong and would ultimately result in me becoming cross-eyed, and that’s why they had to do the surgery. I hadn’t noticed any crossing prior to the surgery, but it was explained to me that this is what would happen if they didn’t operate. What I learned much later was that the operation was cosmetic more than anything—it was a way for my eyes to look ‘normal’, but the vision pattern was already set in my brain.

I have no idea who the eye surgeon was, but I recall it was done in the old St John of God Hospital in Belmont (in Perth). And this bit I don’t recall at all, but Mum remembers it clearly and thinks it’s the source of all my fear of anything coming near my eyes and of eye surgery—Mum said that when she and Dad came to pick me up, I told them how frightened I’d been before the operation because I was left alone in the operating theatre, wide awake, for some time prior to people coming in and then going under the anaesthetic. No doubt the big light was on, there were stainless steel carts and trays of instruments, and all the paraphernalia of an operating theatre—scary stuff for a kid from the country!

I recall coming out of anaesthetic and vomiting several times and having a really sore throat (tube down the throat?). My head and eyes were heavily bandaged, and obviously I was blind. The nurses (nuns?) expected me to be able to eat the jelly and ice cream with a spoon, without helping, so you can imagine what that was like. But my biggest memory is of being blind and in the bandages, and alone. I don’t know how long I was in hospital all bandaged up, but it felt like a month (it was probably only days). Mum and Dad lived too far away, so they didn’t see me again until they came to pick me up. Of course, I couldn’t read (my great love at the time) or do anything at all so I just lay there in the blackness. I do remember a song on someone’s radio, and if I ever hear it these days, I’m taken straight back to that time and place.

After the bandages were removed, I was a mess. My eyes were red and bloody for months, and the bloodshot look (so pretty… NOT) didn’t die down for a year or two. I had lumpy stuff on my eyeballs on the inner corners of my eyes, likely where the cuts had been made. I had to wear really strong sunglasses everywhere for a while (weeks? months?), even inside the house and in class. When you’re almost a teenager, you remember this stuff—people stare at you because you’re different (who wears sunglasses inside? why are your eyes always red?) and so I have clear memories of this.

Family history

I now need to segue a bit into family history. Strabismus is believed to be familial—it runs in families, but not everyone gets it and not every generation gets it. With corrective techniques applied early enough, it can be treated and forgotten about, though it’s possible you may still have to wear glasses for the rest of your life. So where did mine come from? Likely from my paternal grandmother, Nana B. But her strabismus wasn’t obvious until she was much older. She wore glasses all her life and I recall that one lens was very thick at the bottom and the other very thick at the top, no doubt trying (vainly) to correct her double vision. By the time she was in her 80s, her strabismus was at the point where one eye would look at you while the other was looking towards the ceiling—it was a bit disconcerting! She never had any corrective surgery, just her glasses, but that was a product of the times and places she grew up in more than anything else. By the time I had my operation at 12, she was deemed too old (at 64) for a similar operation.

Now, because strabismus runs in families and because it CAN BE CORRECTED NON-SURGICALLY if caught early enough, it’s vital that children are tested early on, preferably before they turn 3 and at the latest by 5 or 6 (see the links above). With strategically applied patches and/or glasses, most instances of strabismus can be corrected if caught early enough. However, by the time a kid reaches teenage or adult years, surgery may be the only option and it’s not guaranteed to correct the vision, just the cosmetic straightness of the eyes. (Again, check the links above and consult with an optician or ophthalmologist—I am NOT a medical person.)

Life with strabismus

So, what was (and is) it like living with strabismus? For many things, no different to anyone else. But for some things, there were a lot of differences, many of which were because my eyes and brain processed images differently to other people. I only realised this in my 40s when I worked for a 3D software company and did a lot of research into how people see. When that light bulb came on, everything just clicked. So many things that I had struggled with all my life suddenly made sense and could be explained by my wonky vision (not a technical term!). What the articles linked to at the beginning of this post don’t tell you is how everyday things that other people do naturally just don’t come naturally to you. And when you’re a child, this can result in bullying, name calling, or just exasperation by you and those helping you that you can’t ‘get’ how something is done.

Some of the characteristics/symptoms of strabismus that I’ve had all my life include:

  • double vision (in my case, one strong image and a ghost image above and to the right of that strong image)
  • compromised or lack of depth perception
  • compromised or lack of binocular (3D) vision
  • compromised or lack of distance perception
  • motion sickness as a result of motion parallax (might also be known as optical flow), such as looking out the passenger side window of a car when it is in motion, or trying to read in a moving car with the landscape flicking by fast at the corner of your field of vision, or viewing an IMAX theatre movie! (seriously, I can’t do that—I had to walk out of one because I was so disoriented I was close to throwing up)

In real life, these vision issues manifest in all sorts of ways. (Note: Not all these situations may be JUST a result of my vision, but my vision would play a part.) For example:

  • Sport, particularly ball games, was (and remains) a horrible experience:
    • I need to state up front that my family was never ‘sporty’—we didn’t follow sport, we didn’t play sport (though my parents played social tennis and golf at certain points in their younger lives), and sport wasn’t part of our extended family’s lives either. However, I had to play ‘sports’ at school, and I also played netball outside school as a kid and teenager; I suspect I was forced into this, because I certainly didn’t want to play.
    • I was crap at netball. So bad that when my girlfriends were playing A and B grade netball, I was in D or E grade. I was useless at catching the ball, let alone making a shot for goal, so was always relegated to the least useful defence position where I could do the least damage. I was called ‘butterfingers’ often because I couldn’t catch a ball coming through the air (depth/distance perception + double vision = two balls + two sets of hands = something isn’t going to work). I have a wonky (broken) little finger and a wonky nose to show for it to this day. The end of school meant the end of netball, thankfully.
    • One other sport I ‘played’ at school was golf. I came home after the first time (I think I was about 13) and Mum asked how many I hit. I said 33… on the first hole! Then she asked if I’d included the ones I missed. I was horrified! You had to count the ones you missed too??? Needless to say my golf career began and ended badly. Why? Because when you have bad depth perception and double vision, you really don’t know where the ball is on the tee or ground in relation to the club or your body. I replaced lots of divots and dug the ball out of the ground numerous times. And there were innumerable ‘windies’. Because golf wasn’t really supervised when I was in the later years of high school, I just took the opportunity to use it as an excuse to go for a walk and chat with friends.
    • In later years I was asked at various times to give tennis, squash, and volleyball a go, purely social of course, and often with work colleagues, despite my protestations that I was useless and could I bring around the drinks instead? Volleyball wasn’t too bad. But tennis and squash were complete disasters. With tennis, a small white (later yellow) ball coming at speed against a blue sky trying to meet the sweet spot on a racket just didn’t work for me. Again, I could see two balls, two rackets, and had NO idea of where the ball was in time and space, so there were lots of misses or hitting the ‘wood’ of the racket (including during serving). I had better luck with a tennis ball coming off the ground (including for serving), but no-one wants to play ground strokes all the time. Squash was a complete disaster and I only attempted it once or twice. This time, a TINY TINY ball at superfast speed bouncing off white walls—my eyes couldn’t cope and I had no idea where that ball was.
    • In later years, I’ve played pool with my husband. He’s good and I’m not, yet still he perseveres. I can line up a shot, I can see the angles, I can see where the cue needs to hit the white ball to achieve the desired result. And then I execute. Invariably I’m a degree or two (or more) out of alignment and the shot certainly doesn’t go where my brain told me it should go. Occasionally I fluke it, but most of the time (80% or more) my shots are wayward.
    • In summary, I had years of horrible ball game experiences, but at the time I had NO IDEA that my vision might be contributing to my hatred for sport. I just thought I was useless (as I was told by other kids often enough). Aside: If you’re a teacher, especially in primary school, NEVER get kids to pick their own teams. Kids know who they think of as useless and we’re always the last picked, and often with comments that we overhear such as ‘we don’t want her on the team, she’s got butterfingers’, ‘she’s a klutz’, ‘she can’t catch’, ‘do we have to have her?’. Teachers must hear these comments but do nothing about them. It is cruel in all respects, and certainly doesn’t do the unwanted person’s self-esteem any good at all.
  • Heights and open spaces at height are traumatic:
    • Where do I start? Let’s start with open stairs, particularly metal stairways with metal mesh treads, open air for risers, and open metal handrails (or no handrails) whether inside or outside (though outside is worse). Bad depth and distance perception means that going up a flight of open stairs is particularly frightening. I can usually make one flight to the landing without a problem, but about halfway up the second flight, I start to ‘freeze’ and have to use every ounce of mental will to get up those last 6 or so steps. I have ‘frozen’ many times on stairs like these, and if you’ve never experienced your body ‘freezing’, I certainly don’t wish it on you. What happens is that your hands grip the handrails so tightly you can’t open them—and nor can anyone else. And your body stops and starts to go into a sort of paralysis, whereby you can’t move, no matter how much (logically) you might want to. Eventually (it could be seconds or minutes), your brain starts to release the muscles and you can make it those last few steps. But not without a lot of trauma and exhaustion and a promise to yourself to never do that again. And that’s just one set of stairs—if there are two or three stories of open stairs, then I’ll leave because I just can’t do it.
    • Glass elevators inside or (worse) outside a building. Nope. If there’s absolutely  no other choice and I really want to do this, I’ll go inside the elevator and literally hug the only solid wall and shut my eyes tight and fight off the mental demons. I’ve also been known to tell complete strangers that I’m terrified and that’s why I’m hugging the wall. That said, I’ve discovered over the years that I can turn around very slowly and look out from my position on the back wall as long as I look straight out and never down. It’s still traumatic. I consider going up the CN Tower in Toronto (twice) a major achievement, albeit hugging the inside wall in the external glass elevator as though my life depended on it. Again, depth/distance perception + speed of the elevator throws my perception out. I’m OK in fully enclosed elevators where I can see four solid walls and a roof—it’s the glass ones I have trouble with.
    • Ski lifts, chair lifts, gondolas. I’m slowly getting better with some of these, but I still can’t go on an open chair lift of any sort (see open stairs above). I can do an enclosed gondola/cable car, but as long the sides are high enough that I don’t feel like I’m falling, there’s a seat to sit on (e.g. Christchurch, NZ; Sulphur Mountain, Banff, Canada), or the gondola is big enough that I can keep well away from the windows if standing (e.g. Palm Springs, California).
    • Escalators. I’m OK on escalators and travelators, likely because there’s a handrail and half-walls on either side that make you feel relatively enclosed. That said, I have trouble getting onto either—that moving step thing with all those lines means I have to stand and watch for a few more seconds than most when getting on one. And then my first step is tentative, but once I’m on it, I’m fine. Again, depth and distance perception at play here.
    • Tall buildings/skyscrapers. I’m fine working on the 30th floor of an office building, provided I’m not right up against the window. Looking out is OK, looking down is not. I’ve been to the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Centre in New York City) and once I saw there was a big parapet wall on the outside level, I was OK going out there. The CN Tower in Toronto was another story, though. Back in the day, you stepped out of the elevator onto a carpeted floor that went straight to a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass and disappeared into nothingness—needless to say, I hugged the solid wall all the way round! I wasn’t going anywhere near that window. Again, I could look out but not down in any way.
    • Rock crevices and open gaps. I recall an incident when I was about 16. We went up to Kalbarri in Western Australia, and my parents and sister and I went clambering over the massive rock platforms at the base of the red cliffs (at Red Bluff?). I was fine, running over the rocks, jumping over the crevices between them; fine, that is, until we had to come back. Somewhere in my brain I must have registered that some of the crevices I’d leapt over dropped down a long way to the ocean. Yep, I froze on a rock near one of the crevices! I was stuck like a limpet, and no amount of verbal cajoling or physical means could get me to move. Dad tried to prise my hands off the rock but he couldn’t budge them. He didn’t know what to do, and I doubt he’d ever seen that before; I doubt any of them had seen it and I think they thought I was playing some sort of prank. Eventually, my brain must’ve told me that I’d jumped over it on the way out without issue, so it must be OK to jump over it on the way back too, and released the muscles holding me in place on that rock. But I didn’t go back over that crevice—instead, I walked up high on the rocks to avoid it altogether. I guess the old depth and distance perception was at play here too. Another thing about this ‘freezing’—you cannot do anything, you can’t move, you can hardly even talk, and you have no control over your body. It’s horrible.
  • I can’t see in 3D:
    • I have some binocular vision, but I don’t see like others do. I’ve now worked for two software companies whose main product was 3D software! One converted 2D movies to 3D; the other created 3D images of geological data. I was the only person in both companies who couldn’t ‘see’ the 3D effects. One time at the 3D movie place, the content converters had worked on a section of a movie and were very proud of what they’d done with the 3D rendering. All the staff were invited into the screening room where they all put on different types of 3D glasses. The content people proudly showed off footage of this massive golden ball (spacecraft?) coming through the darkness and supposedly into the mini-cinema. Everyone gasped and moved back as the ball rolled over them, and tried to touch it. And I couldn’t see it. I could see the ball and saw that it got bigger on the screen, but I couldn’t ‘see’ it come into the room as the others could.
    • It was while I was working at that 3D movie conversion software company and realising I couldn’t see 3D that I started to research how people see, and importantly why some people, like me, don’t see things in 3D. As I said earlier, I was in my 40s when I discovered that what I had was called a strabismus (that’s the first time I think I heard the word), and as I researched some of the symptoms and characteristics, suddenly everything clicked into place. It was the first time that things like not being able to identify a fast yellow ball coming through the blue sky because there are two of them and two rackets, made sense. I ended up only working at that company for 6 months or so, but my time there was an epiphany for me. Finally, I had an explanation for why some things were so hard for me, and had been for all my life; things that others took for granted and who got frustrated with me when I couldn’t do them (yes, I got frustrated with myself, too!)
  • I use other visual cues and glasses to make sense of my place in the world:
    • Despite not being able to see 3D effects, I must still have some binocular vision, though my time at that 3D movie software company made me realise that I’ve been using all sorts of other visual cues all my life to make sense of my world and to compensate for the aspects that are lacking. For example:
      • I know that a person has a rounded shape, because I’ve hugged people.
      • I know the shape and dimensions of a vehicle because I’ve driven one and washed one.
      • I can see cars when I’m driving without any problem—I just see two of them (well, one main one and a ghost image for the other, so it’s not two complete images)! Driving during daylight hours wasn’t an issue with my strabismus because of all the other cues I use subconsciously, like how far objects are away based on how things meet at a point on the horizon (vanishing point) and therefore an itty bitty car on the horizon is further away than a much larger vehicle not near the horizon.
      • Night-time driving? I avoid that where I can because I have few other visual cues—high beam is a necessity, where I can use it. Headlights are dazzling because I see four of them when there are only two.
      • Hitting a tennis ball that bounces off the court isn’t too difficult because intuitively I know how tall my body is, how long my arms are, where the line markings are in relation to my body, and because there’s more contrast with the ball against the background of the court than there is against the sky.
    • Glasses. I think I’ve tried them all! I’ve had prism lenses, half glasses, multifocals, bifocals, glasses for distance (more recently as I age), and magnifying glasses for close work (again, more recently as I age). I’ve always had at least two pairs of glasses—clear and sunglasses, and as I’ve got older, I now have magnifying glasses scattered all over the house for computer work, sewing, quilting, reading, doing crosswords, checking things on my tablet, watching TV, etc. All have improved my vision somewhat, but none have totally corrected the issues with my sight—double vision is still an issue, as is the depth and distance perception stuff, but as I said, I subconsciously use other visual cues to help me with that.
  • Tiredness makes the double vision worse:
    • Watching TV. Watching TV with me is interesting! As it’s something I do at night, I tend to be tired, and a comfy chair puts me well into sleepy mode. Even when I’m alert I can’t watch TV sitting straight and upright in a chair. If I’m on a sofa, I’ll be semi or fully prone on one side and watch TV sideways. If I’m in a chair, I’ll screw my body round like a pretzel, twist my head on an angle, and watch TV like that. If I’m getting tired, I’ll close one eye (usually my right eye). Why? Because the more tired I am, the greater the separation of the two images I see. If I’m very tired, I’ll have the main image of the 55″ TV in one position, and the ghost image totally separate from it (not overlapping at all), way off to the right and slightly above the main image. By closing one eye, I only have one TV to watch.

Other eye surgery

My first eye op was when I was 12. The next was a five years ago when I had a blepharoplasty to remove some of the excess skin from my droopy eyelids; see https://rhondabracey.com/2015/07/16/eyelids-before-and-after/

Then in July 2020 I had cataract surgery (see: https://rhondabracey.com/2020/07/04/cataract-surgery/), with Toric lenses used (these are meant to correct astigmatisms, to a degree). My initial response after surgery was how bright and clear everything was, and yes, I could see distance stuff much clearer and without glasses. However, I had some smokiness above everything I saw, especially from my right eye, but I had to wait 6 weeks before I could see the optician (this allows time for the eyes to settle after cataract surgery).

Six weeks after the surgery, I went back to the optician to see if I needed new glasses (I believed I did for distance as the smokiness seemed to be getting worse and was compromising my ability to see clearly in heavy or fast traffic situations, under some circumstances). I was his problem child! I don’t know how many lens combinations he tried, asking ‘1? or 2?’ and getting ‘they’re both bad’ from me, especially for my right eye. Eventually, he decided on a combination he was happy with. The glasses arrived 2 weeks later and I put them on in the store. My first reaction was that they didn’t work and seemed to make my vision worse (especially in the right eye) than without the glasses. I was advised to ‘try them for a week’ and come back if they still didn’t work. I went back and the eye tests done by the optician the second time showed that my vision had got worse since he tested me only a few weeks earlier. He told me he couldn’t do anything more for me and I would likely need a laser procedure done and referred me back to my ophthalmologist. The degree of deterioration was such that my eye doctor saw me within a week (the original appointment was for January 2021!)

Guess what? I’m one of about 20% of people who have issues after cataract surgery, where the vision becomes cloudy and fuzzy. There’s nothing wrong with the new lenses—it’s the capsule holding the lens (the eye doctor likened it to cling film, and in some people the cling film becomes like bubble wrap). This cloudiness can occur anywhere from weeks to decades after the surgery, or, in most cases, not at all. In my case, it was probably days. Instead of the double vision I used to have (main image with a ghost—almost outline—image above and to the right), I now have a different type of double vision, where everything has a main image and a smoky image directly above it. I’ve tried to draw diagrams of how I used to see with just the strabismus and how I now see after cataract surgery.

How I saw any object with strabismus: There’s a main image, then to the right and above, there’s a ghost image of the object

How I see the same object after cataract surgery: The main image is clear, but it has a smoky image immediately above it. This is fine for one object, but now think about that with multiple cars on the road, all moving at speed, and all with smoky duplicate images

 

Representation of how I now see an eye chart without glasses (right eye mostly). There’s the main line with quite a bit of smokiness and blurriness, and a duplicate line above it with much more smokiness. Yes, even with one eye closed I have double vision out of the other.

The eye doctor did all sorts of tests, some of which I’d never done before. I also told him that my left eye was now exhibiting some of the same smokiness, though not to the degree of the right. After doing all his tests, he said that it likely could be fixed with the laser procedure (YAG capsulotomy), and that he’d do both eyes right then (this was last Thursday, 24 September 2020).

The procedure took just minutes, was totally painless, and I could resume normal activities immediately afterwards. The lifting of the cloudiness is expected to occur after 24 hours. But as usual, my eyes want to do their own thing!

Update: 24 hours later and my vision was perhaps marginally better, at best (that could have been wishful thinking).

Update: 48 hours later, and there’s still no change.

Update: 72 hours later, nothing’s changed—the smokiness is the same as it was before the laser surgery.

My next appointment with the optician isn’t for another month, and the follow-up appointment with the ophthalmologist isn’t until early December. I hope I’m just a late bloomer and that there’s some improvement in my vision by then. And I need to remember that I’d used compensatory techniques for decades to live with my ‘old’ eyes—perhaps expecting instant change is just wishful thinking and over time I’ll develop new compensatory tricks to deal with how I see the world.

For me, cataract surgery might have solved some issues with my vision, but has created others. This saga continues… I’ll update this blog post if there’s any radical change.

 





Dealing with Centrelink for the first time

21 08 2020

Unlike the US, Australia doesn’t have a Social Security Number system where you’re allocated a number early in life (at birth? on turning 18?). Instead, we get a Medicare card, but that’s not the same as the number you need for Centrelink (which is a federal government department looks after all sorts of social security programs for Australian citizens). We’ve been fortunate to never need any services provided by Centrelink, but my husband recently turned an age where he was eligible for a health card that dramatically reduces the cost of doctors’ visits, prescription medicine, and has added state and local government benefits (such as reduced drivers licence and vehicle registration fees, reduced shire rates, and reduced water and electricity charges). The benefits far outweigh the costs (there’s no actual cost for the card, but you must meet qualifying income criteria; assets aren’t considered). And from what I gather, once you have this card, you have it for life unless your circumstances change. I’ll be eligible for one in a few months too.

I knew we had two options for dealing with Centrelink and applying for this card—attend a Centrelink office in my nearest town, waiting in line potentially for hours to see a human, only to then be told he didn’t have all the required paperwork and having to repeat the process xx times until it was all done. Or to do it online. The problem with applying online is that you first have to have a MyGov ID, which my husband doesn’t have, so I had to apply for that for him first (and set up a new email address for him), then I had to apply for a Centrelink Customer Reference Number (CRN) before I could apply for this card. I did a lot of reading beforehand to see what documents I needed to prove my husband was who he said he was. And I kept putting this off, because there were so many places it could go wrong!

But I bit the bullet last weekend. I spent most of one afternoon navigating MyGov and trying to get a Centrelink CRN and set up accounts for him. I’m tech savvy (he’s not, which is why I was doing it), I’m not stymied by online forms, and for the most part it was pretty simple. BUT, the Centrelink website says you can only get a CRN via your MyGov account, so I set that up, then tried to link to Centrelink and picked the option that said I didn’t have an account with them, so then the form wanted a CRN, which of course I didn’t have. I thought I was destined for an endless loop but a quick Google showed me that if I click on the COVID message on the MyGov website, I could apply for and get a CRN. Once that was done, it was pretty easy. I needed his passport, drivers licence, last year’s tax assessment notice, bank account details, Medicare card, tax file number, etc. to set up his account. That was enough for one day!

A few days later I logged back in to apply for the card he needs. Because I already had the other stuff set up, this was actually pretty simple and I was impressed with how easy it was. I filled the specific forms for this card, uploaded the other documents required (yes, I spent some time offline getting all this together, so the process wasn’t completely painless). The next morning I got a text message telling me that the application has been approved and I should receive the relevant card within 14 days. That ended up being far less painful than I expected, considering a human likely had to look at the supporting docs.

So, it ended up being quite easy—for me. BUT, and it’s a BIG but… While it was easy for me, it doesn’t take away the dreadful feeling I had that those who need these sorts of services the most may be the least computer literate and thus have to attend a Centrelink office several times to get it sorted out, with the associated wait time to be seen by a human, and then to be sent away to find the relevant docs. I’m in the privileged position of being computer savvy, having a computer and mobile phone, and being well organised with my paperwork. What do those who are elderly, infirm, cognitively or physically impaired, poor (therefore no computer, mobile phone), who live in regional or remote areas, who don’t speak English, who are in dire situations at home, who can’t ‘prove’ their residence because they don’t have one or have to keep moving on, who are refugees/asylum seekers, or even who aren’t tech savvy etc. do? Those who MOST need Centrelink’s services are likely locked out because the designers of these systems design them for people like them—people with jobs, people who have a roof over their head, people who can read English, people who keep copies of bills, people who have a passport or drivers licence, people who have a computer/mobile phone/internet connection and know how to use it.

It must be hell for those on the margins to be forced to do this stuff online, assuming they had all the required information. Or maybe they just give up and drop off the edge into the abyss. One thing is for certain—you would have a very hard time trying to get a federal government concession card or pension of some sort if you had almost no documentation from at least the past few years (plus something to prove date of birth and residence). So those who say that undocumented people such as refugees can rort the system, need to take a long hard look at how hard it is for someone even with documentation to access these services.

Update: A friend mentioned that many public libraries and community resource centres in country towns may end up being de facto support people helping people make Centrelink claims because that’s often the only place where there’s free internet access. So kudos to all the library and resource centre staff who do this unpaid service.

I also discovered that there’s a service for seniors (4.8 star reviews) that will help you through it all—for a fee (~$200 on application and another ~$200 on success): https://retirementessentials.com.au/

 

 





Letter to my Splendid Fairy-wrens

21 08 2020

Dear Splendid Fairy-wrens

I love you, you are the cutest little birds, and the iridescent plumage on the male is to be seen to be believed.

But would you PLEASE stop fighting the reflection of yourselves in my windows. It used to be just one bird then two and only the kitchen window and back sliding doors, but now it’s EVERY. DAMNED. WINDOW. in the house. And there are more of you this year (yes, you’ve been doing this for several years now—I think you’ve trained your kids too!). You do this for hours on end (starting just before dawn), pooping nearly every time. It must be exhausting for your tiny little bodies—you’d be better off saving your energy for feeding, breeding, and rearing your young ones.

And you don’t want to know how hard it is to get your poop off the rough brick window ledges, the windows themselves, the flyscreens, and the concrete pad around the house. Or how annoying it is to hear ‘tap tap tap’ continuously for 12 hours a day.

Yours, annoyed home owner who loves wrens, but hates the constant tapping as you fight your reflection.

PS: You’re really cute… until you’re not.

PPS: Time to bring out the ‘owl eyes’ (I have a photo of some large owl eyes that I print off and laminate and put on the windows—it seems to keep the wrens at bay, but this year I might have to make lots of copies and put them on every window).





Knowing where I live

14 08 2020

Today I finally learned the name of the First Nations Australians whose land my house sits on. Yes, I knew it was Noongar land, which covers most the south-west corner of Western Australia. But I also knew that there were various named groups within the broad brush of ‘Noongar’. For example, nearby Bunbury is on Wardandi land. A couple of months ago, I asked a Noongar woman I know if she knew which specific people were the original inhabitants here, but she didn’t know—she just knew she was Noongar. But she did tell me that the mob up at Collie were different to her mob and that her people couldn’t marry anyone from that mob even though they were all Noongar (I think I got that right).

So today I had a bit of time to do some research and found out that the First Nations people on whose land my house stands are the Elaap, and officially they are the Elaap Wardandi Noongar people.

Our research shows that Elaap karlaboodjar – the home-place of the Elaap people – covers around 1250 square kilometres of coastal plain, estuary, bushland and foothills. It is the place that has very recently – only within the last 200 years – come to be known as the Leschenault Estuary district in the Greater Bunbury area of South West Western Australia. Its enduring name is Elaap and the Elaap Wardandi Noongar people are the traditional owners. People have continuously lived in the South West for over 45,000 years, but the Leschenault estuarine system is quite young, beginning as a coastal lagoon only around 8,000 years ago.

From: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321579306_Stories_want_to_be_told_Elaap_Karlaboodjar

(Random associated fact: The massive Eelup Roundabout at the entrance to Bunbury and where you turn off to head to Busselton and Margaret River is named after the Elaap people.)

And here’s the magnificent Wardandi Boodja sculpture at Koombana Bay in Bunbury: https://regionalartswa.org.au/stories/wardandi-boodja/





Solving the problem of bra straps slipping off shoulders

2 08 2020

For decades, I’ve had to hoist up my slipping bra straps, typically several times an hour. No matter how much I tightened the straps, the slope of my shoulders meant they still fell off. I tried the clasp things at the back, but someone else had to put them on or do them up for me, or they didn’t suit my wide back and couldn’t pull/connect the straps as the diagrams indicated. When wearing a t-shirt, I’d often tie some cotton tape between the straps at the front to pull them together, but that only worked for high-necked t-shirts and not for any garment that had a scooped or v-neck. Crossover straps at the back never seemed to reach either.

So when I was in the lingerie shop the other day getting a new bra, I asked if they had a solution. They suggested silicone cushions that your slip your strap into and said that women who’d had mastectomies etc. found they reduced the pain from shoulder straps. I bought some (they were pricey from the lingerie shop!), and they work brilliantly for me! I put them on with my bra in the morning and don’t have a slipping strap all day. Such a relief.

You can find them on Amazon, eBay etc. Just search for silicone bra strap cushions.





Cataract surgery

4 07 2020

The time had come… Back in February, I went in to the optician to get new glasses as mine had a scratch on the lens. He did an eye exam and advised me NOT to get a new script until I’d seen my ophthalmologist about my cataracts. Cataracts? What cataracts??? He said I’d had them for a couple of years now, but he only mentioned them now because I was only now mentioning that my vision was getting worse—didn’t want to scare me, or something like that. So off to my lovely ophthalmologist, Russell.

Russell confirmed the cataracts and said that they typically didn’t tell people they had them until the patient started to complain about vision loss. That’s to stop patients worrying unnecessarily about something that could take several years to manifest as an issue. I could see the logic in that, but still, I think I would’ve liked to have known earlier.

Anyhow, we booked my surgery for 2 July; it was originally going to be March before my planned trip to the US and Morocco in April and May, but as the recovery time before you can get new glasses would be about 6 weeks, I pushed the surgery back until after I was due back from my trip—I certainly didn’t want to be away and travelling and not being able to see properly! Of course, between February and March 2020 the world changed with COVID-19, and with it a whole lot of things that we could and couldn’t do. My trip was off, for starters. And in Western Australia, all non-urgent elective surgery was cancelled to free up medical staff, PPE, and hospital beds for the expected influx of COVID-19 patients. That didn’t happen in our state, so by May 2020 restrictions on elective surgery were lifted. I fully expected my cataract surgery to be pushed back to October or later, but the 2 July date was still OK.

I was scheduled to have both eyes done at once, under general anaesthetic. This is NOT the norm—typically, you get one eye done under light sedation, then the other eye gets done some two weeks later. But I freak out if any instrument comes near my eyes (long-lasting trauma from major eye surgery when I was 12), so Russell, who knew about this phobia of mine, suggested he do both eyes under general. He said it’s not the norm, but he was fine with doing that, and besides, he didn’t want me to have two lots of general anaesthetic a short time apart.

My surgery was to correct my medium- to long-distance vision and Russell said that I’d need about 1.5 magnification glasses afterwards for close work. I had originally opted for good short vision as I do a lot of computer work, sewing, reading etc., but then I thought about the long-term situation with glasses and realised that if I went for good short vision, then I’d forever be getting prescription glasses and sunglasses (at $400 a time) for driving, watching TV etc. However, if I went for good medium to long vision, I would only need to buy el cheapo magnifying glasses for close work from any pharmacy or other places that sell them (and there are a LOT of places that do); same for sunglasses. And I wouldn’t be restricted to special frames or styles as I was for my prism prescription lenses. So within days of my appointment with Russell in February, I called to change the request to be for good long-distance vision.

2 July 2020

Off to the hospital for day surgery… The first stage of prep was getting several courses of drops put into my eyes over about an hour; this was to dilate the pupils. One of them really stung, but the other was fine. Then into the very stylish (not!) gown for the operating theatre and into bed under the snuggly heated blankets. Next came the anaesthetist who had trouble finding a vein (I did warn him) and so he waited until I was in the very bright light of the anteroom outside the OR, and even then he had to try several places to get a cannula in. Then he left me in the very bright light (dilated pupils and bright lights really don’t do well together) while he went into the OR to discuss things with Russell.

He came back in to tell me he had to mark my eyeballs with some sort of marker while I was sitting up but that he’d give me a local anaesthetic first. It would’ve saved me a LOT of angst had he told me HOW he was going to administer this local anesthetic. Instead, he left me alone with that information for about another 10 mins, but which felt like a lifetime. I was already stressed to the max about this operation, so hearing about a local just added to that. I seriously considered getting up and doing a runner because the idea of a needle near my eyes was too much to bear! When he came back, I asked how he was going to do the local and he said via drops! He could have told me that right from the get go!!! The most difficult thing was trying to tame my brain from the terror and worry that if anything went wrong…. And my body was as tense as a board because I was so mentally stressed.

Once he administered the local anaesthetic drops and did the marking (no pain, though it was a bit perturbing having the marker coming at my eyes), I was wheeled into the OR and put under. Russell said he’d be putting in a Toric lens, which is hoped to reduce/eliminate my strabismus, and that’s why the marker.

Next thing I’m waking up in the recovery area. The lights were very bright but I was able to see out of both eyes so that was a massive relief. The plastic shields over my eyes were removed after about an hour and were no longer required. After some food and drink, my DH came to pick me up and we headed home. We watched TV that night and I could see everything clearly with NO GLASSES! First time ever, I think. But boy, every light in the house was certainly bright and all the LED lights had BIG halos around them. That night I slept semi-upright in the recliner as I didn’t want to sleep on my side in the bed in case that was an issue for my eyes.

3 July 2020

Day 1 with my new eyes: Everything is so white and bright! I was able to watch TV last night without glasses for the first time in probably forever. But now I have to wear glasses for computer work, reading, sewing, and quilting. I’d been using magnifiers for some reading for a while (e.g. newspapers, but not ebooks ‘cos you can increase the font size for that), so that’s no different, but wearing them for computer work is. Fortunately, I have a few magnifiers, so I just leave one pair near the computer. Today was a normal day other than getting used to the brightness outside the office window, and getting used to putting on my glasses for the computer or anything I have to read, like the fine print on the eye drop bottles.

My eyes seem fine, though they’re a bit weepy and feel like they are just brimming with tears for much of the time. I slept in the bed tonight, with no problems at all.

Some of the precautions I have to take:

  • two different types of eye drops 4 times a day for two weeks
  • NO water in my eyes from showering etc. for at least two weeks—I borrowed a friend’s diving mask to wear in the shower so I can wash my hair and it works a treat!
  • no bending over, unless you keep you head on a fairly even horizontal plane—I have a grabber tool I can use to pick things up off the floor if my DH isn’t close by, or for getting the newspaper from the driveway in the morning
  • no strenuous activity (that one’s not hard for me!!!)

4 July 2020

Day 2 with my new eyes: Everything is still very bright (I’m glad it’s the middle of winter here—it would be much worse in summer when the Australian summer light is so harsh), but I seem to have lost the big halos around the LED lights, which is good. We went for a 160 km drive today, but first I had to get some new sunnies from the pharmacy (and another pair of 1.5 magnifiers so that I’ve got enough to leave in all the places I need them). I had to wear the sunnies at lunch as the light coming from the bright sky and from the water outside the restaurant were too much to bear. I noticed that by mid-afternoon on the drive home the vision in my right eye was a bit blurry. I believe this is normal. In general, my left eye seems to have more clarity than the right eye (which was the case before the surgery too).

I also noticed when I was reading the paper this morning (head tilted down to the table, which probably wasn’t a good idea) that I was getting little flashes of light at the far corners of my eyes. I’ll have to hunt out an angled drawing board I have for reading the paper and doing the crosswords to see if that helps get rid of the flashes. Again, these are likely normal for the first few days/weeks.

One other thing I noticed is that because I can’t wash and splash my face in the shower, my eyelashes have got a bit matted from the ‘sleep’ and the drops. When I was at the pharmacy getting my new sunnies and magnifiers, I asked about something to gently clean my eye area, and they suggested eye wipes (a Murine product). They helped a lot in getting rid of the accumulating gunk!

The watery eye feeling seems to have gone, except after putting in the drops, of course.

My follow-up appointment with Russell isn’t for another few weeks yet, so I’m using this blog post to note down all the changes, differences, and variations of vision that I experience.

From here on, I’ll only update this post if I notice changes.

Bottom line: Am I glad I had the surgery? So far, after two days, a resounding YES. There has been no pain and no issues other than sensitivity to light as my new eyes adjust to their ‘new normal’.

Update 9 July 2020, one week after the surgery: I’m getting used to the brightness of everything, and it’s becoming my ‘new normal’. I still get the occasional white flashes on the outer corners of my eyes, but these are very intermittent and very seldom. I’ve had some ‘floaters’, again very seldom and very intermittent, and much smaller than the floaters that I had occasionally before the surgery. The wateriness has well and truly gone, and I’m getting used to wearing glasses for reading instead of distance.

Update 16 July 2020, two weeks after the surgery: As for 9th July. One eye has a bit more clarity/sharpness of vision than the other, but I’ll talk to the ophthalmologist about that when I see him for my post-op follow-up next Tuesday. It’s likely related to the type of lens used to correct the astigmatism (strabismus), and the slight blurriness is nowhere near as bad as the double vision I had before. I can stop the eye drops at the end of today too, and shower without eye protection!





Mrs America (TV series)

3 07 2020
Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, from the Mrs America TV series (photo from IMDB)

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, from the Mrs America TV series (photo from IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9244556/mediaviewer/rm3950416641)

I watched Mrs America recently and it took me back to my late teens when I segued from high school in a regional Western Australian town to university in Perth.

For me this transition occurred in the early ’70s, right in the middle of the US and then global women’s rights movement. It was an awakening time in many ways, as it often is for those going from the comfortable existence living under their parents’ wing in a country town, to the ‘radical’ ideas and different norms of life at university in a big city. Perth was a city, but in terms of population and mores it was more like a big conservative country town. Things from the outside world didn’t penetrate very far—there was no internet, social media, etc. so all news and information came via tightly (and conservatively and male) controlled newspapers, TV news etc. Of course, some at university had other sources and so there were alternative opinions and ideas offered in the student newspapers and at the protest marches of the time (mostly against conscription and Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, though there were some women’s right marches too—I’ve never been an overt protester so I never went to any marches). That sets the scene for where I was for much of the time period covered by Mrs America—sheltered from the big bad world, living on the far west coast of Australia under the wings of my parents, and then at university. I was a member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby for a short time while I was at uni.

I’d heard of some of the American women involved in the women’s rights movement—Gloria Steinem and Betty Freidan, mainly, though I think I’d heard of Bella Abzug too; Shirley Chisholm was a vague recollection—but I never read any of their books. In Australia, the publishing and bookselling industries were very controlled and getting books from the US was almost impossible, so I’m not sure we even had access to those books at that time, except perhaps from underground sources. Being Australian, The Female Eunuch (Germaine Greer, 1970) was the main feminist work I was exposed to. Other writings I recall included Our Bodies, Ourselves (Boston Women’s Health Collective, 1970; I think I still have my copy of that!) and a bit later, Damned Whores and God’s Police (Anne Summers, 1975 [Australian]).

I had never heard of Phyllis Schlafly, though I think I’d heard of the STOP ERA group.

So I came to Mrs America knowing a little about the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) struggle, but not much, and what I did know was way back in my memory banks and half a world away from where I was living.

First, I loved this series and all aspects of its production. The costumes and sets were exactly as I remember from the time, even the excessive smoking everywhere. And the acting was superb. The two Australian leads—Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly and Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem—were brilliant and both deserve awards for their performances. The plot moved along at a good pace, and the focus of each episode on the main players of the time and the chronological sequencing of those episodes was done well. There was SO much to love about this series, and I intend watching it again.

But then there was the subject matter, and so much of it brought back feelings of frustration and anger rage at how little has changed for women in general, and especially for women of colour and LBGTQIA women. And anger that the ERA STILL has not been ratified in the US (I can equally point fingers at Australia—we certainly don’t have a good track record on the rights of anyone but white men either).

But my deep well of anger was reserved for Schlafly and her team of STOP ERA slaves (what else do you call people who work for all hours for nothing but the crumbs from their controlling mistress?) and for the far-right wing evangelist Lottie Beth Hobbs (played by Cindy Drummond) who Schlafly joined with (well, bulldozed is a better description) to gain more supporters for her cause, and as a result added a pro-life, anti-abortion, anti-gay aspect to her platform to appease Lottie’s conservative right-wing Christian evangelical followers.

Schlafly, as depicted in Mrs America, was the biggest hypocrite. Her platform was against women working outside the home, yet she had a job as a political lobbyist (adviser on nuclear and defense policy at the highest levels of the US government), ran for the US Congress twice, wrote several books, gained two degrees, and had 6 children by the time Mrs America starts, and had a law degree by the time it finishes. And how did she do all these things? She had Black women to run her household (no doubt paid a pittance), a well-heeled lawyer husband to support her financially, and an unmarried (and belittled) sister to palm her children off to when the Black women weren’t available. And once she started her newsletter and the STOP ERA movement, she had a team of unpaid volunteers (women like her with children, but not necessarily with the same support networks to look after them) who she worked to the bone and treated like her minions. As depicted in the series, one of these was obviously being abused by her husband, but Schlafly’s response was for her to dismiss it and to tell the woman to stay in the marriage. Schlafly was bossy and super controlling, was always right (in her mind), and what she said was law. She saw no hypocrisy in taking the stand that a woman’s place was in the home, yet working for a living and doing few, if any, homemaking activities herself. She was anti-gay, yet one of her sons came out as gay in 1992. She was supportive of her minions and staff baking bread and pies (no doubt financed by them, not Schlafly) to bring along to ‘bribe’ officials, yet did no baking herself. She swanned around bossing everyone with her upper middle class white privilege, yet taking no responsibility for what happened in her wake. I hated her. I love how well Cate Blanchett played her (she had to be good for me to hate the character), but I was so angry that Schlafly and her tribe hijacked the ERA.

(Aside: Some names that appeared in some of the episodes are still appearing in news stories today — Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, etc.)

 





Vale Mrs M

5 06 2020

My high school biology teacher passed away earlier this week, aged 103. A pretty good innings! But what was remarkable about her was how she touched the lives of all members of my immediate family.

In the 1940s and as a single woman, she taught my dad science at the Perth high school he attended for a short time, then later she taught my mum science/biol at the country high school she attended. My parents didn’t meet until much later, and it was likely even much later they found they’d had the same teacher.

Move forward a few decades… She’d married by then so had a different surname. She was my biology teacher at high school (the same school my mum had attended) and also taught my sister a couple of years later. At some point I think my parents met her when she was my teacher and realised that she was the same person who’d taught them. The other connection was that her son was in the same biology class as me — I always wondered how weird it would be to have your mum as both your teacher and your parent!

I don’t think I ever saw her again after finishing school (though maybe she attended our 20th year reunion??). But I still remember her… and dissecting frogs in biol!

Rest in peace, Mrs M.





From little things, big things grow

2 06 2020

In this case, the title of this post reflects a tiny pinprick hole in a water pipe that resulted in a LOT of water damage in just a few hours. Who would’ve thought that such small thing would lead to repairs and remediation that took seven weeks to complete? Much of that time was drying time, but there was still a lot of work to do to get it back to normal. All this happened last October, but I haven’t written it up until now. Much of this is a record for me as to what happened and how long it took. NOTE: We work from home, so the leak would’ve only been going for a few hours before being noticed. Had we worked away from home, or been on holiday, this could have been MUCH worse.

So, what happened?

Wed 16 Oct 2019

  1. Approx 3:30pm: Discovered a large patch of wet carpet in the bedroom at the entrance to the en suite bathroom and on the other side of the wall from the walk-in-robe (WIR). Identified that the water had seeped through the wall from the WIR. The WIR ceiling had water coming down from it, via the cornices and wall, and the alarm system box above the top shelf of the WIR. The water was pooling on the top shelf of the WIR, then running down the wall that adjoins the en suite shower. The carpet in the WIR was soaked, the back wall of the WIR was soaked as were the skirting boards, and water was still running down. The carpet on the other side of the WIR was soaked, as were its skirting boards—there’s possibly damp in that wall too.

  2. Raced outside to turn off the water main as we suspected a pipe had burst in the roof space. Called the plumber to attend ASAP.
  3. Approx 4:30pm the plumber attended. He went into the roof space, and located the source of the leak, which was still running, though not as much. It was the hot water pipe from the hot water system (HWS) to the en suite shower. He got us to turn on the hot water tap in the shower to drain the rest of the water out. The cause of the leak was a very small hole/tear in the pipe. The plumber took photos, then cut the pipe and capped it as a temporary solution. The plumber identified only one insulation batt that was quite wet and removed it from the roof space; he put it in a large garbage bag and we put it in the bin.

    This pipe is only about 12 mm (half an inch) in diameter

  4. Meantime, we were running around madly trying to mop up the water from the carpet in the WIR and outside it, and remove clothes and shoes that had been wet by the leak, as well as storage boxes on the top shelf of the WIR.
  5. I emailed my handyman (away on holidays) to let him know that we would need him very soon. He gave me the contact details of a handyman friend of his (Eric).
  6. I emailed my insurance broker to let him know and ask what to do next. He told me that no insurance policy will pay for the plumbing repair, just for finding it and the damage caused by it. Go figure!
  7. I called the alarm system people to see if someone could come out to check that the alarm box and its contents had not sustained any damage.
  8. During the night, we continued to mop up water using old towels, using the washing machine to spin out the water every so often, then laying them down again to soak up more water.  We also ran a pedestal fan in the WIR to try to evaporate some of the moisture (not very successful).

Thu 17 Oct 2019

  1. I called three different carpet cleaners before I found one (Village Carpet Care, Bunbury, Western Australia) that had the equipment and knowledge to extract water from carpet in the hope of rescuing the carpet from potential mould and avoiding replacement. They came late in the afternoon. The carpet guy pulled back the carpet, cut out the wet underlay, extracted as much water as he could and left us with two floor-level fans (not heated—heated fans promote mould!) to help dry out the carpet and concrete slab. He will come back next week after everything is dry to re-lay the underlay and carpet and treat and steam clean the carpet. After the underlay was removed and the carpet peeled back, the extent of the water damage—both inside the WIR and outside it—was revealed. In addition to the carpet, the concrete slab in the WIR and outside it was wet, as was the wood holding the carpet in place, and very likely the skirting boards and wall between the WIR and the entrance to the en suite (still to see evidence of moisture—the handyman and the carpet cleaner both said it could takes weeks or even months to know the full extent of that damage). After extracting the water, peeling back the carpet, and cutting out the affected parts of the underlay, the carpet guy placed two powerful floor fans—one in the WIR (under the lifted carpet) and one at the entrance to the en suite—to dry out the carpets. We had these fans on constantly from 8am to 11pm for the next few days, and kept the windows in the bedroom and bathroom open for cross-ventilation, as well as running the exhaust fan in the WIR for those hours, and the air-conditioning. The aim was to extract as much moisture as possible from the carpets and save them from being replaced, if possible.

  2. The plumber arrived to repair the pipe. He had to gouge out and ‘chase’ the hot water pipe in the area above the shower, replace the pipe and reconnect it to the HWS piping in the roof. When finished, he cemented in the hole he’d made, leaving enough room for the handyman to patch the hole at a later date.
  3. The alarm guy came in the afternoon and checked alarm control box at top of WIR—bone dry, so no water ingress..
  4. I received an insurance claim form from the insurance broker.
  5. Meantime, we identified all clothing that had got wet and needed to be washed (including many towels) and started doing laundry to prevent the clothes from going musty/mouldy.
  6. I called Eric (the handyman) to get him to check the damage and see what needed to be done, in preparation for a quote. He found no evidence of any bubbling or bulging in skirting boards or behind paint, but he said that wasn’t uncommon at this stage and could take weeks/months to become evident. He left us an industrial floor fan (not heated) to help circulate air to remove moisture. He’ll quote me on the work needing to be done, based on this initial inspection.
  7. Approx. 24 hours after discovering the leak and after mopping up as much moisture as we could from the carpet and having the pedestal fan blowing over it for at least 18 hours, it was still quite wet both inside the WIR and on the other side of the wall near the en suite.

Sun 20 Oct 2019

Eric (handyman) came to collect his blower fan and to discuss the next steps. He will likely return the week starting 28 Oct to:

  • replace the insulation batt(s) in the roof space
  • while in the roof space, check the attachment of the WIR ceiling/cornice to see if it has been damaged and will need replacing
  • patch, paint etc. the partially repaired hole in the wall above the shower where the plumber had to replace the pipe
  • replace some or all of the top shelf in the wardrobe.

After a few weeks/months, he will come back to fix any issues with bubbling paint, water damage to cornices/walls etc. that reveal themselves over time.

Mon 21 Oct 2019

The carpet guy returned and spent several hours reinstalling the underlay and the lifted carpet, treating the carpet, then steam cleaning the carpet.

Sat 26 Oct 2019

Received partial payment of insurance claim to cover things like the carpet remediation, alarm box check, plumber exploratory work (though NOT the plumbing repair).

Tue 29 Oct 2019

Insurance assessor arrived to assess damage and compare quote from Eric to what he thought needed doing:

  • Didn’t need to see my photos—his moisture meter clearly showed that water had penetrated the walls (some readings were >80%; normal is <15%). Took readings on red wall outside WIR and wall inside en suite near cornice just outside shower stall. Did not take readings of pillar on outside wall of WIR.
  • Advised that getting the paint off ASAP and drying out the walls with a fan was necessary to prevent further damage, mould, and a long-term wait before painting etc. can occur. Indicated it could be weeks before remediation work could happen.
  • Decided that the red wall and skirting board outside the WIR weren’t showing signs of water damage and so crossed that off the quote, for insurance purposes. (Ultimately, these DID need quite a bit of repair/remediation, but weren’t an allowable claim on the insurance policy because the assessor deemed that they weren’t an issue.)
  • Said that cornice and ceiling in the WIR didn’t appear to be structurally damaged, but didn’t go into the roof space to check.

After the insurance assessor left, I contacted Eric to arrange a time for him to start prep work

Thu 31 Oct 2019

Eric did these tasks:

  • Replaced insulation batt that was removed from the roof space by the plumber
  • Removed some of the melamine shelving from WIR to allow air flow (left the shelving framework for now—it will need replacing too)
  • Scraped all paintwork from back wall of WIR and partial areas of side walls to expose the plasterwork; marked with pencil the extent of the water ingress on the side walls
  • Provided an industrial floor fan to help dry out the walls; we left this on 24 hours a day for several days, along with the exhaust fan in the WIR.

Sat 2 Nov 2019

Received final insurance payment. Didn’t pay for everything, of course.

Mon 4 Nov 2019

Eric tested moisture in walls:

  • Moisture in walls in WIR down to <10%, so the fan has worked well
  • Moisture in walls on the other side of the WIR: approx. 25% on the red wall in the bedroom, and about 30% on the en suite wall, so still a way to go.

Eric’s advice: keep fans on and he’ll be back later in the week to take more measurements and plan from there.

Fri 8 Nov 2019

Plumbers here all day to replace the grey pipe in roof space with all copper. We decided to replace all plumbing inside the roof space with copper pipe—both the plumbers, the carpet guy, and the insurance assessor all said independently of each other that the grey pipe used 10–15 years ago was a bad batch. The carpet guy said he did water extraction and carpet remediation for about 300 houses a year just in the Bunbury area that had water damage from split pipes in the roof; the insurance assessor said similar, as did the plumbing company.

Mon 11 Nov 2019

  1. Eric tested moisture levels. Good in WIR, but still 20–35% on outside wall, pillar, and en suite shower wall.
  2. Eric stripped off paint in en suite to expose to fan air to dry out as much as possible.

Thu 14 Nov 2019

Eric tested moisture levels.

  • Almost all are <15% in the en suite, but the pillar outside was still registering ~20–25%, so he focused the fan on that area.
  • Moisture levels in the WIR are either the same or 1–2% higher than when the fan was on them, but still under 15%, with most under 10%.

Mon 18 Nov 2019

  1. Eric tested moisture levels: Readings on pillar still over 20%, so he stripped pillar and part of red wall in bedroom and put fan onto this area. Also, put initial patch on wall above shower in en suite.
  2. Air con serviceman here because no a/c going into the sewing room. Found a piece of ductwork had been dislodged fully from the unit!!! Only possibility was the plumbing team. I emailed the plumbers to let them know. A/c guy took photos and refitted the ductwork.

Tue 19 Nov 2019

Cleaner here; asked her to do 2nd shower as we had used it when the en suite shower was out of action a month ago. She discovered there was NO water to the shower taps. Called plumbers, who discovered that those taps had never been connected when they did the copper pipework! Added a T-piece in to pipe water to those taps.

Thu 21 Nov 2019

Eric tested moisture levels—all below 10%!!! Started work on sealing the walls.

Mon 25 and Thu 28 Nov 2019

Eric did main painting on walls, fitted WIR shelf etc.

Mon 2 Dec 2019

Eric finished off almost everything, including painting the feature wall in master bedroom.

Wed 4 Dec 2019

Eric painted last coat of red wall, final touch ups. DONE.

So, 16 October to 4 December—one tiny pinprick hole that spurted water and resulted in damage that took seven weeks to get back to normal. The insurance paid about 75% of the total cost of the repairs and remediation. Additional costs were for replacing the pipework in the roof with copper—that was always going to be our expense.





Summer hailstorm

25 02 2020

Yesterday afternoon we got hit by a big summer thunderstorm—dense dark cloud, thunder, lightning… First came the rain (16 mm in about 10 mins), followed very closely by the most frightening hailstorm I’ve ever seen. Within minutes the ground was covered in what looked like snow but was hail the size of an Aussie 10 to 20c piece (about the size of a quarter for USians). The pounding on the metal roof sounded like a freight train was rolling over it. The gutters and soakwells couldn’t cope and all overflowed, creating some localised flooding and washing away part of the driveway’s blue metal. In 10 minutes it was all over and the hail started to melt—it was still 25C outside! I took some photos and videos (my first attempt at videos from my phone, so be kind) to show the ferocity of this hailstorm. And I felt really sorry for anyone out driving in this—it would have been the scariest 10 mins of their lives.

I’ve timestamped the photos and videos (to the hundredths of seconds) so you can see how quick this thing was. All the videos and most of the photos before you get to the videos were taken from inside the house—there was no way I was venturing out into that! (The videos are all less than 30 seconds each. Note: I have NO control over what videos YouTube promotes at the end of each one.)

Update: According to the weather bureau, the town 25 km from us had less than 2 mm of rain, which means this hailstorm was very localised. I’ve seen no reports of it in the media, at all.

2:52:37pm

The first hailstones

Oh, this is cool! We’ve got hail—wow!

2:52:40pm

3 seconds later - more hail

Wow, that hail is coming down quick (3 secs after first photo)

2:52:46pm

9 seconds after the first photo - the hail is coming down even more. Time to go inside as the lightning strikes seem close

9 seconds after the first photo – the hail is coming down even more. Time to go inside as the lightning strikes seem close.

2:52:55pm

18 seconds after the first photo -- now that hail is getting a little bit scary

18 seconds after the first photo — now that hail is getting a little bit scary

2:52:58pm (video)

From inside the front door, looking over the front lawn

2:53:48pm (video)

From inside the front door, looking over the front lawn

2:54:47pm (video)

From the side door, looking out over the driveway to the house across the road

2:55:26pm (video)

From the back door, looking over the back lawn and raised garden beds—the hail looks like snow

2:55:51pm (video)

The gutters and soakwells were not coping with the deluge of so much rain and hail in such a short time—this was getting a little bit scary…

2:57:11pm (video)

The soakwells were full and the water and hailstones had nowhere to go so they just pooled around on the concrete

2:57:36pm (video)

The soakwells were full and the water and hailstones had nowhere to go so they just pooled around on the concrete (apologies for the change of orientation of this video, but it shows the pooling water really well, so I didn’t want to delete it)

3:03:23pm

Five minutes later, the worst of it was over. The rain and hail stopped and I ventured outside to check for damage and to take photos. Already the ice was melting fast (it was still 25C—the temperature hadn’t dropped with the hail as usually happens), but I needed to record as much as possible in case there were damages that we needed to claim on insurance. Fortunately, I think we dodged a bullet on that! My “he’s a keeper” handyman will check the roof, gutters, solar panels etc. later this week to make sure everything is still OK.

Minor flooding on the back verandah---the water near the back lawn was about 4 cm deep, the skies had gone from dark grey to medium grey. We NEVER get water coming in past the line of the pillars.

Minor flooding on the back veranda—the water near the back lawn was about 4 cm deep, the skies had gone from dark grey to medium grey. We NEVER get water coming in past the line of the pillars.

3:03:33pm

More flooding at the back veranda. The ice is disappearing fast.

More flooding at the back veranda. The ice is disappearing fast.

3:03:40pm

This soakwell just couldn't cope with the deluge, so the water and hailstones pooled there for several minutes. The water here was about 6 cm deep.

This soakwell just couldn’t cope with the deluge, so the water and hailstones pooled there for several minutes. The water here was about 6 cm deep.

3:03:49pm

This soakwell just couldn't cope with the deluge, so the water and hailstones pooled there for several minutes. The water here was about 6 cm deep.

This soakwell just couldn’t cope with the deluge, so the water and hailstones pooled there for several minutes. The water here was about 6 cm deep.

3:04:03pm

This soakwell just couldn't cope with the deluge, so the water and hailstones pooled there for several minutes. The water here was about 6 cm deep.

This soakwell just couldn’t cope with the deluge, so the water and hailstones pooled there for several minutes. The water here was about 6 cm deep.

3:04:55pm

15 minutes after it started, it was all over. All the hail was melting fast and the sun was out.

15 minutes after it started, it was all over. All the hail was melting fast and the sun was out.

3:05:19pm

15 minutes after it started, it was all over. All the hail was melting fast and the sun was out. Steam was coming off the metal roof and the land as the sun started to work its magic.

15 minutes after it started, it was all over. All the hail was melting fast and the sun was out. Steam was coming off the metal roof and the land as the sun started to work its magic.

3:05:32pm

Some small pockets of hail took longer to melt than others

Some small pockets of hail took longer to melt than others

3:04:45pm

Side year. Hail is melting fast.

Side year. Hail is melting fast.

3:06:43pm

The water sloughing off the land and the gardens had to go somewhere, so down the driveway it went

The water sloughing off the land and the gardens had to go somewhere, so down the driveway it went

3:06:50pm

The water sloughing off the land and the gardens had to go somewhere, so down the driveway it went, creating big gouges and carrying the blue metal to the lowest point (the kerb in the picture is about 10-15cm deep)

The water sloughing off the land and the gardens had to go somewhere, so down the driveway it went, creating big gouges and carrying the blue metal to the lowest point (the kerb in the picture is about 10-15cm deep)

 

A day later, and the lawns and gardens are positively SMILING with relief at getting some rain. We haven’t had rain for months, so even though this was scary, the benefit to the garden is immense.