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August 21, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

A Melbourne Emergency

Published August 2011 in Farrago’s Batmania blog

Ah, the casualty ward. Bless the people in Australia’s short colonial history, the ones who instigated the cruel and unusual process of medical procedure known as the emergency waiting room. Those folks didn’t really understand that with enough pain or boredom, people can curse your memory without any guilt at all.

Not that there are any viable emergencies at the moment, on this particular day in rain-soaked Melbourne. There’s no ER-style nurse performing CPR on top of a moving gurney. It usually happens while my mother, a seasoned nurse and midwife, shouts “You’re doing it wrong!” at the TV screen.

Melbourne, I’m sure, is probably better than most other developed cities in providing healthcare, a fact highlighted by my proclivity towards semi-serious injury while travelling.

While I was in East Timor (don’t ask, too long a story) I had an eye-infection with the works, with tendencies towards light-sensitivity and habitual winking, like a degenerate old guy. I took a Captain Feathersword approach to treatment, with an eye patch and cocky swagger, but alas, no sword of the avian variety.

When I tried a state hospital, I lasted five minutes. Five whole minutes at an East Timorese hospital in a snaking line, watching other doctors go on their smoko break. Essentially, it was four minutes longer than I should have been there. Cue a last-ditch visit to the friendly Portuguese UN barracks full of Portuguese soldiers who knew how to dance and didn’t mind asking a girl to join the party. Even in my pirate-y state, I still got a “not bad” from one of the doctors on duty. Obrigado, my friends.

Then there’s France, and the hyper-friendly courtesy call a curt Frenchman delivered to attend to my burgeoning bronchitis a few years later. He spent half the time correcting my French and charged me without mercy. Well, thanks.

In a rather circumspect way, I am coming to my point, sitting here in a Melbourne waiting room, slowly succumbing to the desensitising smell of antiseptic and various fluids, bodily or otherwise. Here at least, I am grateful that doctors speak my language, that I’m not a pirate, and that I don’t have to speak French while coughing up my lung through my trachea. You don’t quite realise how much worse our medical system could be until you turn into Captain Feathersword in a developing country. Or talk to a French doctor.


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