Cystoscopy

Wouldn’t that title suit a movie? It would promote a mystery and a bit of drama.

The date and time for the “production” were set weeks ago and I was invited to provide the setting for the production, namely my bladder.

As sometimes is in movie making, the setting becomes the star of the film, as, for instance, a film set in Paris or Berlin can be.  And so it was with my bladder. A bladder is not so exciting as Paris or Berlin but it is to me as the doctors hold out the prospect of ripping it out of me.

I had a cystoscopy done before. It was done at a doctor’s surgery without much fuss.    A competent nurse inserted a catheter into my urethra and then the doctor inserted a camera into my bladder. I was invited to watch it all on a screen. “There is cancer”, he exclaimed as if he had discovered a new small-sized planet. I didn’t see anything,  it all looked uninteresting to me. That was it. They let me go home to nurse my manly pride.

Not this time. It was to be big, bigger than “Ben Hur” apparently. “You have to fast from midnight,” they said, “and you need an anaesthetic,” they added. I did not understand. It is hospital procedure and they added that I have to have someone to drive me home. I can go by bus, Oh no, you can’t.

I became angrier and angrier and called the whole thing off. It did not take long and another female person, more friendly, rang me back and explained why an anaesthetic was necessary this time. Now we know I had cancer and if it looks like it could be back they would take a biopsy. If I cancel the procedure I would lose my place in the queue and it could take months before I could be treated again. Reconsider! I did.

I had my evening meal at seven pm and was allowed to eat and drink up to midnight. But when I went to sleep at eleven I did not feel like a meal.

Next morning I took the bus, accompanied by my wife for moral support. We were early and waited in the visitor’s lounge until the appointed time.

When I fronted the reception desk I was instructed to sit down and wait for the nurse. It wouldn’t take long I was assured. As any actor would be able to tell you, movie making is actually very, very boring. There are long waiting times between takes and the setting up of the set

On a big wall TV screen, we were informed that the hospital performed many procedures that day and ten were of a urological nature, just like me.  In the meantime, ambulances brought emergency cases to the ward which meant I had to wait longer. After about an hour one nurse came to invite me into the inner sanctuary. My hope that it was soon my turn was quashed quickly. She put some stockings on me and questioned me in regard to my persona. Having established that I really was the one I claimed to be I was duly tagged with two tags, wrist and ankle. “It won’t be long,” she promised.

It was back to the waiting room in which a silly TV receiver showed constantly ads in which they inserted snippets of news. My stomach began to rumble. Seventeen hours had passed since my last food and drink. The TV started to show an old American movie. How did I know it was an old movie? The people did not use a cell phone (mobile phone) and nobody stared at a smartphone. They were actually talking to each other.

My bladder is not the only part of my body that gives me cause to worry and to consider my future here on Earth. For instance, if I sit for long I have problems walking, my right leg becomes almost useless.  So, from time to time I have to get up and pace like a panther in the zoo up and down the waiting room. By doing this I can be sure I can actually walk into the ward for my procedure and not collapse because of my immobile right leg.

The silly movie made way for more ads with some news reports inserted.  In the waiting room beside us was only one other lady. She too complained about the long waiting time and she too had nothing eaten since the previous night. Hungry people are not patient people. They are getting angrier with each rumble of the stomach.

During my walks around the ward, I saw a poster on the wall inviting us to give the ward manager a call when you have any concern before, during or after the procedure. In times long gone by, those managers were called Head Sisters or Matrons but in today’s modern times everything has to be managed. I was wondering how anybody under an anaesthetic could call the manager during the procedure? But anyway, I was still before the procedure and gave her a ring because the lady at the reception desk had long gone home. My case needed to be managed.

The manager was surprised to hear from me when I explained that there were still two patients waiting for their procedures. She promised to come out and “look into it”.  I would say they had forgotten us.

When she came out, she wanted to know who I was. She explained that they have been rather busy and had worked their way down the list and it so happened that they had reached us on their list. The lady patient and I  should come in now and we would be  taken care of. Finally!

I must tell you here that I wasn’t so keen on the anaesthetic in the first place, plus I was silly enough to watch the night before a hospital drama in which a patient died during an operation because of a haemorrhaging brain tumour.

Instead of getting an early mark the crew in the operation theatre still had to look through a peephole into my bladder and take pretty pictures of what they saw. And if what they saw was not to their liking a biopsy had to be taken.

The man who prepared me for my anaesthetic was delighted to see the back of my hand looked like “a map of Papua New Guinea”. The veins were sticking out like a river system in a rainforest. There was no need to search for a place were to stick in the cannula.

I started to remember an operation I had when I was nine years of age. I was so afraid of the anaesthetic that I screamed like hell. I wanted to get off the table and run away. But the staff tied me down with leather belts on all of my four limbs. I was naked and it was freezing cold. There was a war going on, the enemy was only 100km away and American and British bombers were pounding our city day and night at any time of their liking.

A sister put a gauze over my face on which droplets of ether was trickled. “Count to hundred and back again,” I was instructed. I was so scared then and did not expect to survive. It all went well but would a nine-year-old expect that?

Back to the future. While the anaesthetic tried to shut down my senses I was heard myself saying, “I feel I’m getting drowsy…”.  This time I was not scared only concerned and then nothing…

When one is unconscious time does not exist. I could have been dead or died during the procedure. I would never have known. But suddenly,  a sweet, angelic voice was saying, “Peter, it is all over.” That is what the voice said but it was not what I actually heard. I heard, “Peter, it is ALL over!”

That could only mean one thing, I was dead. When I opened my eyes I found I was still in the operating theatre and the nurses prepared me to take me to recovery.  There they took a few measurements like pulse and blood pressure.  All seemed to be okay and they offered me some hot tea and sandwiches. This was very welcome after fasting for twenty-three hours.

A young resident doctor by the name of Shaun turned up and told me that he had indeed found a new cancer in my bladder and he had removed it. The biopsy would also show whether they got it all out and the surrounding tissue was free of cancer.

While I was munching on my sandwiches my wife and daughter were suddenly standing beside my bed. I was satisfied that my story had a happy end and soon we were on the way home. We practically had been eight hours in the hospital.

I think, being alive is a good substitute for being in “heaven”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Russia House” and the “Dutch Cafe”

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Last Monday we,  my wife Uta (also known as Aunty Uta) and I,  went to Bulli Beach for a cup of coffee. We had to kill some time as we waited for the doctor to start work. We were early.

Uta wanted to relax with a book she brought along. She loves books written by Andrew M. Greeley and this one, “The Bishop in the West Wing” seemed especially of interest to her.  Greeley is called ‘author and priest’ but I can tell you, he is not your common garden variety priest. His novels are always political, as seems to be right for a man with an Irish background. While Uta was delving into her book I decided on a little stroll as I can’t sit for long. Movement is the best for my ageing and aching legs.

The above picture does not show Bulli Beach (on the Illawarra Coast of NSW) but the neighbouring Sandon Point Beach. Along the shoreline runs Blackall Street. New, modern houses have sprung up there over the years and replaced many of the old houses that I remember from more than fifty years ago; many have disappeared or were altered beyond recognition.

During the sixties, I worked with another German from Berlin beautifying the old houses there. This kind of work brought us in contact with so many people of different walks of life.  For instance, migrants who still had to come to grips with the cultural shock they had suffered after coming to Australia. Australian men did not like us “New-Australians” but the women did.  Meeting us those women found out, that men actually were able to talk and converse with women as that. We often had great conversations with them during our lunch breaks. They always supplied us with cups of tea and ‘bikkies’ as is the Australian way.

Here at Sandon Point’s Blackall Street, we struck migrants who had made Australia their home after World War Two and all the destruction and replacement that went with it. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean surely must have been a kind of paradise for them.

First, we worked on a cottage that belonged to a Dutch family. They were older than we were and could have been our parents. They were from a region in the Netherlands that was close to the border to Germany and they were able to talk in German to us. They preferred that to speaking English.

We were able to establish an instant rapport with them, even though, we were on opposite sites during the war.  They were so friendly that they provided coffee and cake every afternoon. We were sitting and talking about the war and Australia. We dubbed the place “The Dutch Cafe”. We learned, during our conversations with them,  that the husband of the Dutch couple used to be a truck driver during the war and was on tour to Berlin on many occasions. He also worked for the Dutch resistance and had to spy and report on what he saw in Germany. It was a dangerous mission.

They put us in contact with another lady who lived down the road from them. We were able to do the same work on her house as well. The lady was from Russia but was of German descent. She was much older than the Dutch people but they had taken an interest in her and her wellbeing.

While working on her house she was telling us about her life in Russia and the Soviet Union. She had experienced the Russian Revolution and had no good word about it. Her German family were decried as capitalists as they were in the habit of painting their fences. The old lady cried a little as she told us her family history. On a table, I saw a photo of her husband, as a young man, standing in the Red Square of Moscow. The view of the Kremlin was in stark contrast to the view from her tiny upstairs window towards the ocean. We nicknamed her home “Russia House”.

 

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This is the view from Russia House today

When we left her premises, she gave us a piece of advice, probably born out of her own bitter experience, never to trust a Russian. Some of my followers will know, from reading some of my previous posts, that I had to trust Russians to survive.

Walking along Blackall Street I could not help noticing the changes and gentrification of the street. Where would the families of the former Dutch and Russian families be today? We all have moved on, some of us have gone back to eternity and we ourselves are waiting to move there.

But, I’m not in a hurry yet, despite dreaming last night that on a visit to my doctor he informed me, that he had bad news for me; the government would like to let me know that I would depart to the hereafter soon.

I still want to write a few more posts for this blog.

 

 

 

 

In Berlin on a Hot Day

On our trip to Berlin in June last year,  we had the opportunity to vote for the federal election at the Australian Embassy in the centre of Berlin.

In Berlin, you can find statues of the Berlin emblem, the Berlin Bear, everywhere in all different disguises. We even found one inside the embassy.

 

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The Berlin Bear greets little Aussie Lucas at the Australian embassy.

But there was a kangaroo too. It looked a bit on the “dry” side in a Berlin court yard.

 

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“Skippy” the Bush-Kangaroo hiding in a backyard in Berlin on a diplomatic mission

In the next picture, you see indeed some Aussies marking the ballot papers. The children thought we went there for a scribble session and Lucas wanted to have a pencil and a piece of paper too.  This is election Australian style. The voting papers are not marked in secret nor are there any cabins where you can hide what you are doing.

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It was a very hot day in Berlin, actually 33°C. So we felt quite at home and what better idea than heading for the water. We did a river cruise.

 

 

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One of the modern buildings replacing the infamous Wall.

Remnants of the Wall can be seen nearby.

 

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Parts of the old Wall has been transformed into an outdoor gallery.

Not far away up-river is the beautiful Oberbaum Bridge. You can see another Berlin anomaly where the underground train is actually an elevated train.

 

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A castle-like structure over which the, here elevated, yellow underground train traverses.

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At the Technical Museum, the elevated train crosses the Landwehrkanal meeting a plane that used to be part of the air-bridge during the “Blockade” of 1948 / 49

 

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The office of the Chancellery as seen from the River Spree. From here Frau Merkel runs the country.

The river cruise took us right through the centre of Berlin.

 

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This is the Central Railway Station. Trains are pulling in from all directions of the compass. The East/West trains are above the ground and the North / South trains are under ground.

 

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This is the Parliament building the centre of the German democracy.

 

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The “Ganymed” Restaurant and the theatre of the world famous “Berlin Ensemble” to the right of it.

 

The “Ganymed” was once owned by a member of my wife’s family. Because of the closeness to the theatre, it attracted members of the cast and crews after the show.

 

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The ‘Berlin Cathedral at the Pleasure Garden.

At the end of the 3-hour cruise, we were all exhausted and when we arrived at the train station we found this sign:

 

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Train has been cancelled

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because in Berlin the trains run every few minutes and every station is well stocked with food and drinks of all description. As we were parched we were able to buy some bottled water.

 

It was a memorable day

 

 

 

 

My dear Followers…

 

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Mount Keira

…you are probably wondering what this old man in “Downunder” is up to?

“Why don’t he write? (is one of my favourite lines from the film ‘Dances with Wolves’)”

Yes, why haven’t I written for a few months?  I’m busy coping with life. I am active but everything takes longer nowadays. On top of it, the medical profession has taken up a big chunk of my precious time. They ponder the question of how they can prolong, or extent,  my life. “Prolong” sound negative, doesn’t it? I’m sure I want my life to go on a bit longer.

The photo on the top was taken during one of my two recent stays in hospital at Wollongong, NSW. It is a picture of Mount Keira.  A small hill, compared to all the big mountains in the world. But since it raises 464meters from practical sea level it is dominating the city. It is part of the Illawarra Escarpment.

 

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The coastal plain as seen from Mt Keira

 

And this is part of the view from the top of Mount Keira. It is breathtaking.

The region in which we live, the Illawarra, is as beautiful as it gets. Less than 100 km south of Sydney.  It is almost unknown by the Sydneysiders. They rather go north on their weekends or vacations. And if they go south they bypass the region on the motorway.

During February we had downpour after downpour, resulting in local flooding in local areas. A boy, only thirteen years old, drowned in a creek. He was being swept away in the deluge while riding a boogie board with about twenty other children. That is what children do. When I was that age I played with my friends in the ruins of Berlin after the war. That too was a dangerous pastime. Luckily, nothing serious happened to me and I’m here to tell the story.

We live in a world of unprecedented uncertainty. I know, life was always uncertain but what we have now is on a scale that is simply frightening. People have lost trust in their system of government. And governments have lost trust in their voters.

Much of the uncertainty and the fear it creates is the result of modern communications. The global village is today’s reality and not only a thought bubble emanating from  Marshall McLuhan’s brain.

For me, a frightening world is still an interesting world. It is an opportunity to learn. We are conscious beings, who are forced to learn or we won’t survive. We are craving “input”  like the robot “Johnny 5” in the 1986 film “Short Circuit”. The problem with the majority of us is, that we are craving junk input too. To know what to learn and what not to learn then becomes the question.

At this stage of my life, I have to learn to deal with what my doctor announced with a stern face, “You have a tumour! You know, a tumour?” Yes, I heard him the first time. This is my reality now.

After a couple of invasive procedures and a six weeks treatment regime, I am free to spend my time in a more or less unstructured way. We, Aunty Uta and I, had time to go and see a couple of movies. The outstanding one was “Frantz” a French- German coproduction. It is an anti-war movie par excellence. It is shot mainly in black and white to express the mood of the time in 1919.  Occasionally, the colour appears at some beautiful moments in the story. There is only one very short scene of what actually happened during a battle. Perhaps it was necessary to show why the main protagonist acted in the way he did. War not only kills people but messes with the lives of the survivors too.

Today,  I’m happy to report that France and Germany are the best of friends. And this after hundreds of years of fighting each other. This gives raise to some sort of optimism as those two European nations, having seen the past, understand that the only way forward is through cooperation.  The British on the other hand have pulled up the bridges and wallow in their insularity.

Last month was my birthday. The 82nd no less. I took my wife to downtown Wollongong and we had a cheese platter in a roof top restaurant. The sun shone and warmed us on the outside and the cheese and wine on the inside. We were in a life-affirming mood and were reflecting on our sixty years of marriage.

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We had a great time and wished us both a long life together.

I hope, I will write another post soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of the Past and towards 2017

Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.

These are the words of the refrain from the beautiful song “Bookends” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. A song about two old friends sitting on a park bench – reminiscing.

 

 

If you have more time on your hand you can be listening to the full version here.

Last month,  Uta and I had our 60th Wedding anniversary. It was a moment to reflect on our past together.

Just before we got married this photo was taken of us two on the balcony of my mother’s apartment in Berlin. In the meantime, this building has been torn down and a more modern one has taken its place.

img_20170106_0001 In the picture, my future wife looks rather sceptical at me.  Or is it whimsical? We were innocent at the time. We believed in a better world and eleven years after WW 2 we had all reasons to believe in a bright future. Out of that belief grew our confidence to start a family.

In case you are wondering about the plate on the wall, it has been painted by Anselm  Feuerbach and is of his favourite model, Nanna, in a classical pose. This plate is still in the family and belongs to my son now.

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From then to now it was a time of great changes in all our lives. We moved to Australia and raised a family. Of our four children, our eldest daughter passed away nearly five years ago.

2016 was an especially bad year all round. The election of Donald Trump to be the new President of the US makes for interesting times. Interesting, because he seems to be unpredictable. He loves conflict and will have a fight on his hand, among others, with the American secret services. The establishment believes the advice of the services are sacrosanct without considering that they might have their own agenda.

Terrorism is an old game but since 9/11 it has become global, as so many things have since the end of the Cold War. We shake in our shoes as our governments think of more useless schemes to stop this menace. But all those measurements make the would-be terrorists more cranky.

On a personal level, my health is precarious. At least this is what my doctors tell me. Next week I will know more. At my age, anything can crop up in my body. When I was born my life expectancy was just sixty-four years. Fifteen years later I am still here to tell my stories.

A few years ago, I talked about this with one of my neighbours. We called it bonus time and laughed about it. This was on a Friday and the very next Monday his bonus time came to a sudden end. So, you never know.

In case you wonder what happened to the couple in the first photo. We changed into an old couple day by day without noticing it. And now, sixty years later, we look like this.

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We have come a long way and I’m happy that last year we were able to visit Berlin, our hometown, once more. If we are lucky, we will be able to see Berlin again in two years time. Our health allowing, of course.

I nearly forgot. For the fifth time, we became great-grandparents. So the family is growing and we hope the politicians are not mucking up the great-grandchildren’s future.

For 2017 I wish all my followers all the best. Most of all stay healthy because without good health life can be a drag.

Life is (mostly) a Tour de Force

 

 

 

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On a perfect sunny day, life seems to be perfect

Life is a race to the end  and it  is run in stages. Some are easy stages, we later recognise as happy times, and some are torturous stages, the hill sections, when we learn about ourselves  and others.

 

We know actually right from the start that the finishing line is waiting for us. But it is rather nebulous and as long as the sun shines we could not care less. The finishing line is so far out that it doesn’t matter where it is. We are happy to complete the stages. Even the numbers of stages are unknown to us.

Some of us come around a bend in our lives and before we know it, the finishing line is there right in front of us and we have no time to contemplate our  fate. It is all over. It happened to me one cold winter day when I fell off my pushbike and  lost consciousness. I might just as well have  been dead.

I  belong to the ones who went through many stages. We believe, despite knowing otherwise, nothing will happen to us and the universe will make an exception for us.  “Pustekuchen”, we say in German when our expectations aren’t being met. All our assumptions are then blown away. The assumptions were just hot air.

A couple of weeks ago, I went   to see my friendly family doctor with a minor complaint. After a few tests, he looked at me sternly and told me  straight to my face:”You have a tumour.” When  he saw my stunned face he added: ” You know,  a tumour!?!”

Oh, I heard him loud and clear. What he was saying to me, was that he had discovered  something in my body that marked my point of destination – my finishing line had come into view. It is not clear whether I’m on my last stage or the second last one. It depends on so many variables. If I pace myself properly, I might be able to add another stage to my life. If not, the next bend could bring the end.

Of course, my adult children are in denial and tell me,  I’ll be one hundred one day. The stage I’m now in, there is still a flat section before the final climb,  and I am still enjoying the race. The sun is still shining.

 

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A Black Swan is sorting out the eggs it is sitting on.

 

 

I have been a marathon runner and ran many road races over several distances and I have learnt to cope with pain. I don’t now how the pain will be in the end,  but I hope for the best. So far, I am still pain-free (which makes my situation surreal)  but I do expect the medical profession to add to my discomfort. It is all part of the cards I have been dealt for the final stage (or stages).

I will still be blogging,  and from time to time I will report on what is happening to me.

The motto of my blog is:

“It is about life, as I experienced it, how I see it and how I imagine it…”

 

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Is this an exit or an entrance to something new, as the mountain beckons in the distance to be climbed?

 

 

Sculptures by the Sea Pt.2

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Another sweeping view of Bondi Beach. On the left of the picture, one can see people walking, ant-like, by the rocky shore.

There was more to see than the results of the various artists: plants that are clinging to the meagre rocks, the changes that Bondi went through since the European people arrived, and the present day activities.

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Bondi Beach has changed over the years since the new settlers arrived.

In the beginning, Bondi Beach was just that, a sandy, long beach with sand dunes in the background. Then people discovered the beach and the surf and used it first without any amenities. During the twenties and thirties, it slowly  changed into what it is today.

While walking along the crowded path we saw a sign that amused us.

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What are they up to. we were wondering. Working below the waves. Later we found more signs that gave us an answer.

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There was even an artist in residence. She was busy creating a mosaic on the rocks that lay there for aeons.

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There weren’t only bare rocks but there were also  signs that life was hanging on on those bare rocks.

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A flowering plant found a home at the base of an old, rusty pipe.

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A little corner full of flowers

 

 

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A plant with giant leaves had found a new home

 

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A single flower starting out a new existence

 

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This bush was once alive and looked more like some of  the sculptures nearby: a symbol of the passing of time 

We had seen enough that day.  We were tired  and were heading home on a nearly empty train.

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