Category Archives: love

What to expect when you’re expecting (for Dads)

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I was initially excited.  We had been planning and trying to conceive for some time, so this was excellent news.

I still remember her telling me… I had just come home from work, and she was in our bedroom.  She called me in and we sat on the bed together.  She told me she was pregnant and I was so happy… I even made my first “Dad” joke.

I had told her I was about to make a joke, so don’t be concerned…. I asked her if she was sure it was mine.  I thought that this was hilarious… she smiled yet I am sure she didn’t think it was very funny.

After the initial excitement, the time progressed relatively quickly.  Yet, it was still a game of waiting… nine months can be a long time.  While my wife grew more connected to the small life growing inside her, I became more distant.

It was difficult for me to conceptualise the fact that there really was a little person inside her.  I didn’t feel the sensations that she was feeling.  Sure, I had seen images of something on the Ultrasound machine (they told me which parts were the head, the arms and legs… it wasn’t easy to make it out), yes, I had heard the baby’s heart beat on visits to the Obstetrician.

Yet, despite these signs, I felt no real connection.  Sometimes I even doubted that it was real, that perhaps people were making up a story and I could see through it.

Months passed, and my wife’s body now showed the signs that she was pregnant, yet I still found it hard to believe.  I could feel the baby’s kicks through her stomach, I could see in the Ultrasounds that there was a vaguely human shape inside, and we made plans for the day of arrival.  Still, deep inside, I doubted it was really happening.  I could create life?  No, that couldn’t be true.

The day of arrival dawned, and my wife and I were at the hospital.  I said goodbye as she was taken to the surgery for the birth, and I waited till I was called when things were ready.

I felt disconnected, like it was not real.

Eventually I was called in, and I stood at my wife’s shoulder to hold her hand and wait for the delivery.

Now, the situation was beginning to fully dawn on me.

I could be about to become a father… although I weirdly expected the doctor to announce that it was a phantom pregnancy.  After a couple of minutes the baby was free and displayed to my wife and I.

The next few minutes were a dizzy haze.

I was told to watch the baby while they ran some tests on him, checking for any abnormalities.  My wife gave me strict instructions to not let the baby out of my sight, so I quickly followed the new arrival to the processing room.  The nurse directed me to help her to measure him, weigh him, wrap him, etc.  She showed me how to do a nappy and told me how to hold him.

I suddenly realised… I was holding my son.  He was real… I was a dad.  I softly talked to him as I waited for my wife to be brought up.  I told him who I was, and how happy I was to meet him.

A few hours later, while my wife, my son and I were in the recovery room… he soiled his first nappy.  A small group of nurses assembled and chuckled as I stood before my boy.  I looked at the nappy, the mess within, and briefly considered my life.

What choices had I made that brought me to this point… where I was about to change my first nappy, my son’s first nappy.  I realised that this was the first real test, and I would not fail.  I bravely rolled my sleaves up and set about changing my first child’s nappy.

We have had several other children since that first, and I have never felt the same amount of remoteness as I felt at the first time.

I have learned what to expect, when expecting.

Name withheld by request.

The Ben Harrison Story

BEN HARRISON

(29/09/82 to 18/05/93) ben harrison

from his best mate,

Graham Harrison (Father)

Life-support machines winked and beeped in the cardiac intensive care unit at the Children’s Hospital in Camperdown, Sydney, as I hunched over a bed, gazing numbly at the unconscious figure of my ten-year-old son, Ben. Naked except for a sheet covering his lower half, his body lay connected to a maze of tubes. A ten-centimetre-wide strip of plaster ran down his chest.

As I had already done countless times that night in early autumn, 1993, I vigorously massaged his hands and feet, trying to transfer some of my strength to him, willing him to keep going. Come Ben, you have to pull through, I thought. Yesterday my precious son had been healthy.

Now I struggled to comprehend he was battling for his life – and seemed to be losing. How could things have gone so wrong so quickly? I wondered.

Ben Stuart came into my life on September 29, 1982, in Sydney Adventist Hospital. As my wife, Elayne, and I joyously inspected our new baby, I counted my blessings. We owned a spacious house in a leafy Sydney suburb. I enjoyed a challenging job. We already had a beautiful, 18-month-old daughter, Kyla. Our three-kilo son, lustily bellowing at the bedside, was the perfect addition to our family.

An inkling of trouble came when a nurse placed Ben on a trolley and inserted a tube into his mouth to suck fluid from his throat, it did a U-turn and came back out. She frowned, and called the doctor.

An examination revealed that Ben was a TOF baby. “Your boy has a tracheo-oesophageal fistula,” the doctor explained. His oesophagus is joined to his windpipe.” Hour later, after Ben had been transferred to the Children’s Hospital, we waited while the upper portion of his oesophagus was surgically detached from his trachea, then stitched to the intact bottom half of the oesophagus. By 2 a.m., he was recovering.

Hugely relieved, we thanked God that our son had pulled through. Other families were not so blessed. In the next bed a couple lost their five-day-old daughter. Witnessing their anguish, Elayne and I vowed that if we ever were in a position to help, we would do what we could to alleviate others’ suffering – including donating each other’s organs.

Tests later revealed that a number of things in Ben’s development had misfired. He had an extra rib, his kidneys were joined by a common wall and his fifth vertebra was misshapen. The abnormalities were nothing to worry about, the doctors assured us, though Ben might eventually need surgery to prevent a sideways curvature of the spine. He should not play contact sport, or do anything that might hurt his back.

One evening three months later, I heard Elayne scream from Ben’s bedroom: “Graham! He’s not breathing!” I rushed in. Ben’s face was blue. I restarted his breathing with mouth-to-mouth and by the time we arrived at hospital, he was sleeping peacefully on Elayne’s shoulder.

A bronchoscopy showed that Ben had softer-than-normal cartilage round his trachea, causing it to narrow when he inhaled. Doctors decided to open his chest and suture his aorta, the main artery from the heart, to his breastbone. “This will take the pressure off the trachea, allowing the cartilage to strengthen as he grows,” the surgeon explained.

From then Ben was blissfully normal. As he grew, he became known to our neighbours as a free spirit for ever on the move. He routinely abandoned his homework to collect frogs’ spawn from our fishpond, swing from trees or play in bushland behind our home. Never once did his delicate back slow him down. One weekend, while helping out at a function at his school, I heard “Look Dad!” from behind me. Ben was balancing on the crossbar of the football posts three metres above the ground, wearing a gap-toothed grin.

Ben showed similar independence in most things. I once brought him a model-plane kit, hoping we could build it together. He refused to let me help, labouring over the model every night for two weeks. The completed jet was lopsided and encrusted with glue, but it was hard to tell who was proudest when we installed it on his bookshelf.

Noisy at home, Ben was often tongue-tied and shy around strangers. His most enduring mate, Calum Martin, lived round the corner. Calum’s dad found Ben sitting outside their house one Sunday morning. Ben had told him he had been waiting for his friend to emerge for more than an hour. “I didn’t like to wake anyone,” he explained.

As Ben approached his adolescent growth spurt, our orthopaedic specialist warned that he could experience problems with his back. Sure enough, in March 1993, x-rays revealed a noticeable curvature. If we don’t arrest it,” said the specialist, “he will have a server, progressive deformity.”

The operation would involve inserting a bone graft from one of Ben’s ribs into the vertebral column to stop his back from bending markedly to one side as he grew. Surgeons would gain access through his chest, opening the breast bone.

Elayne and I realised surgery was necessary but worried nevertheless. At night, when the kids were asleep, we discussed it, comforting ourselves with the thought that Ben had already survived two major operations without problems.

Ben seemed to accept the planned surgery as a challenge. Even when the orthopaedic surgeon explained that he would need to wear a plastic head-to-waist cast to keep his spine rigid for three months after the operation, Ben did not complain. Instead, he cheerfully donned the cast for a couple of hours each day to get used to it, then tried sleeping in it. He even wore it proudly to school, like a suit of armour.

Only later did I discover that Ben was secretly frightened. In a school exercise book, he had drawn an operating theatre and masked doctors with oversized syringes. He wrote: I wish I didn’t have to go to hospital.

On the day before the operation, I stood in our driveway as Elayne left for the Children’s Hospital with Ben in our station wagon. He was wearing a yellow cap and a new jumper, big enough to fit over his cast. He waved and yelled “Bye Dad.” The neighbourhood kids waved back as the car pulled away. (That was the last time I saw him awake).

The surgery was scheduled for 8 a.m. and Ben was not expected in the recovery ward until at least 11 a.m. After spending three apprehensive hours at work, I drove to the hospital to keep Elayne company. As I entered the waiting room, I sensed something was wrong. “There’s been a complication” Elayne said.

When the surgical team had attempted to move aside Ben’s aorta – sutured to his breastbone ten years before – a small hole opened up, spurting blood. A surgeon plugged it with his finger, but with no room to apply stitches, he tried to detach a fraction more. The hole began to tear, now requiring two fingers to stem the flow.

Technicians started a heart-lung machine to pump blood through Ben’s arteries and veins and “breathe” for him. But before it was fully operational, Ben’s blood pressure plunged, depriving his brain of oxygen for between eight to twelve minutes.

As Ben lay in intensive care, I forced back the despair and tried to think positively. Everything will be all right, I told myself. After all, Ben was an old hand at medical emergencies.

But the brain is the most fragile of organs. Starved of blood, the capillaries feeding it begin to break down. When blood flow is re-established, the weakened capillary walls begin to leak.

Now, as blood and fluid leaked into Ben’s brain, pressure in his skull built up. At 11 p.m., I urged Elayne to go home to get some rest for the next day. Kyla, safe with relatives, would also need her. Meanwhile, I tried to sleep in the parents’ hostel. At 1.30 a.m. the phone rang. The registrar, Dr Scott Ferguson, asked me to return to the ward. Ben must be coming round!

I hurried there, but the news was not good. The pressure in Ben’s head was increasing. Ferguson gave him drugs to contain it, and for a while his signs returned to near normal. Then the pressure crept up inevitably. At 3 a.m. Ferguson administered more drugs. By 5.30 a.m., I was still desperately rubbing Ben’s hands and massaging his feet. All I wanted was to hug him, to make him better. Why did I send Elayne home? I need her with me! At that moment, a social worker materialised. Like a guardian angel, she provided the support I needed. She said nothing, just put her arms round me as we cried together.

I was losing my son. I saw it in his eyes whenever the nurse cleaned them. There was nothing there – no sparkle, no life. It is not fair! My mind raged. I haven’t taken him bush-walking, or camping in the mountains, or all the other things a father plans with his son as he grows older.

At 6 a.m., Ferguson took me aside. He had done everything possible, he gently explained, but the gauges indicated that Ben’s brain was dying, although further tests would be needed to confirm this. I called Elayne. “Hurry, they say we’ve lost him.” We cried, then hung up.

Back in the ward, Medical technicians arrive at 9 a.m. to carry out an EEG. They placed a cap on his head, connected by a tangle of wires to a machine beside the bed. Of the ten gauges, only one moved to indicate brain activity and this very slightly. Despite my horror at the thought of losing him, I prayed for Ben to go in peace.

When another test later in the morning showed no blood circulating to Ben’s brain, the doctors took us into a small room. The medical technicians returned again to carryout a second EEG.

This time there was no movement recorded from any of the gauges. At 12.30 p.m., the doctor confirmed our greatest fear; “Mr and Mrs Harrison, I have to tell you officially your son is brain dead.”

Elayne and I were silent, drained. As we looked at each other, I thought back to the time when Ben was first in hospital. Even in my grief, I knew what I wanted to do, and Elayne seemed to read my mind. At the same moment, we said; “We want to donate Ben’s organs.” The doctors looked surprised. “We’re in such pain,” I explained. “If Ben’s organs can help alleviate someone else’s suffering, its the right thing to do.”

At 4.30 p.m., after an independent medical team performed further reflex tests to confirm Ben’s death, I signed papers allowing my son’s organs to be donated. Later, the Australian Red Cross transplant co-coordinator described the operation to remove Ben’s heart, lungs and kidneys, stating the transplant team would treat his body with the utmost of respect.

After spending the night in the hostel, waiting for the transplant team to assemble, Elayne and I accompanied Ben to surgery for the last time. Keeping pace with the trolley, I held his hand as a doctor pumped air into his lungs with a hand-held respirator, the only device keeping the rest of his organs alive. As he was pushed through the swinging doors, Elayne and I turned away.

For four hours, we walked in silence round the hospital grounds. Finally, a nurse escorted us to a “quiet room.” Ben lay on a bed, dressed in his green flannel pyjamas, his hair neatly combed.

I picked him up and sat with him on a sofa, where Elayne and I cradled our son in our arms. For an hour-and-half, we stroked his hair and talked to him for the last time.

On May 21, 200 people attended Ben’s funeral – family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, teachers, school mates. I am not a very religious person, but as I listened to a neighbour reading Ben’s eulogy, I was overcome by a strange sensation. Starting from my feet, a tingling slowly rose through my body, leaving me with a feeling of peace.

In August, I received a letter through the Australian Red Cross from a middle-aged man who suffered from severe kidney disease; “The wonderful gift your family has given me has opened the way to a new life that I value and hold precious every day…. There seems so little to offer for such a fantastic opportunity, but when all other words are swept away, only two remain forever – thank you.”

By the time I had finished reading, tears were running down my face. Here was living proof that Elayne and I had made the right decision.

Later that year, I received another letter, telling me that a young Melbourne girl’s life had been saved by Ben’s heart and lungs.


Post Script following the year’s after this story was published

In the year’s that have followed the publication of Ben’s Story, Elayne and I became heavily involved with; ACCORD, Donate Australia, Transplant Australia, and went on to meet David Ridoutt (Ben’s kidney Recipient), and finally Sharelife Australia – in an effort to motivate the public and change the medical approach to organ donation and transplantation management.

harrison

Eighteen years after Ben’s passing we have since had to farewell David who died in 2009.

We also continue to assist Sharelife Australia in overcoming bureaucratic hurdles that continue to impede the significant change required, to enable Australia to achieve world’s best practice so that we can achieve transplantation rates of 90 per million of population. As of 2012, Australia is slowly improving with a current rate of 44 transplants per million. If the community has the will, this target is achievable.

I have also become involved with a new dynamic donor family group called Donor Families Australia headed by Bruce McDowell. I would recommend all donor family members interested in communicating with other donor members and/or wishing to become more pro-active within the donor family area of organ donation and transplantation to register with us.


ben at 5 yrsBen, Dec 1987  Ben at 6 yrs  Ben, March 1989  Ben at 8 yrs

Ben,  Ben, March 1991   Ben, Sept 1990  ben harrison

For Violet – The Huon River

The frost had settled hard on the grass.  It was a cold, clear night and the moonlight lay flat across the absolute calm of the river.  The woman lay still.

It had not always been like this.  Winds had blown across her face as she sat in the sidecar of a bike as a young woman at the edge of her life.  The woman had braved this trip once before to meet her future mother in law, now she was making it as a bride.

They lay together in the calm of the night; there was nothing to hear, nothing to connect them physically, or she to anything or anyone.

nla.pic-an23752677-vHuon River at Franklin

Many times she would travel the road close to the river.  When she first began these journeys to her new home, she was filled with both hope and sadness.  She was sad to leave her family, but she hoped for a good life for herself and unborn child.

She made many trips over the years.  In time a car replaced the sidecar, but she would not drive it.

“Women shouldn’t drive cars,” she would say. “They are too easily distracted.”

You might say she was her own worst enemy.  By the time her granddaughter tried to teach her to drive, she was too stiff with arthritic pain.  She wished she had never travelled here at all, she longed for her home and her youth.

The road changed over time, from gravel and dirt to bitumen.  The young woman grew to be an elderly person who took very little interest in the passing scenery as she rode along beside the river.

The woman and the river had a long acquaintance.  Two children were born and the trips to the city continued.  Initially the trips were for practical reasons.  Twice they took her back to her home and family in Victoria.  On these she took her children.  Once was to bury her mother.  She always returned to her husband.  It was both a trip down into the remote country, and to the more immediate pain of isolation

The woman was sad.  The years of toil had left her financially comfortable but feeling trapped.  Her marriage was not happy.  Her daughter left home at seventeen, making her own journey past the river in a frenzy of excitement as she attempted to find a better life.

By this time her son had beaten his wife many times and she’d left him.  The woman had taken in her granddaughter but she resented her.  Her anger and bitterness had blinded her to anything positive in her life.

Her husband had a lover.  This had happened some thirty years after they married.  The woman lived with humiliation.  This added to her despair.

The trips to the city became fewer and in the end were only made to go to places like the hospital, or out of sheer necessity, for provisions or clothing.

The grandchild grew and became “too much” for the woman, or so she thought and it was decided that the girl should be placed in a home with the nuns.  The child was devastated. The woman’s desolation grew.

Her daughter would visit over the years with her growing family of three.  The woman would wait hungrily for these visits, waiting for letters.  All this activity passed by the river.

The river had been there a long time. It saw all these comings and goings in the woman’s life, such as changes from starting out to prosperity.

Perhaps the river should tell its version; it had seen the whole tragedy unfold.  The woman’s encounter with it was yet another variable in its existence.

As she lay in the stillness of the night, she felt no pain.  Her husband lay beside her.  No words were spoken. Nothing could be known of the windswept young bride or the tortured woman.

What could be known were their names and their respective dates of death on their combined head stone.

“For Violet: The Huon River,” a poignant story about her paternal grandmother,

by Janice Konstantinidis (Exter) was published in the National Museum of

Australia Exhibition “Inside Children’s Home: An Exhibition for Forgotten

Australians.” Janice was an inmate in Mount Saint Canice, Sandy Bar,

Tasmania, where she worked as an unpaid child laborer in the Good Shepherd

Sisters’ commercial laundry. Janice is a member of SLO NightWriters -The

Premiere Writing Organization on the Central Coast of California.

Superstitious

In the mid 80’s my boyfriend and I went to see Stevie Wonder in concert.

He was a great boyfriend.  He was serious and sincere and I could see a very sensible future ahead of us, but by the end of that night, it was all over.

Stevie Wonder’s tour was riding on the back of the huge success of the ‘I just called to say I love you’ single.  The stadium was packed and our seats weren’t great but it didn’t matter.  I had been a long time fan of Motown, so seeing the great man in concert was a dream come true.

Stevie_Wonder_1967_(1)

It didn’t take long for him to play ‘Superstition’, (for all you younguns out there, Superstition is the funkiest song of all time).  We weren’t in a spot where I could get up and dance so I did the next best thing a funky girl could do, I did a modest ‘chair dance’.  Just bopping my head and tapping my fingers on my knees.  I was having a ‘moment’, just me and Stevie.

Then he did it.  My boyfriend grabbed my hand which was innocently and funkily tapping in time to Superstition and held it tightly in his own. That inappropriately timed romantic gesture sounded the death knell of our relationship.  I looked at him like he was insane, and knew in that second that I couldn’t spend my life with anyone who couldn’t let me get my groove on.

We broke up shortly after.

I have never regretted the decision.

Juliet.

Songbird

I felt completely alone.

An agonising silence where the baby’s heartbeat should have been.

I had heard the heartbeat just days before.  ‘How could this have happened?’  I asked the nurses who busied themselves around me.

It was nobody’s fault…
These things happen all the time…
You can always try again…

My 13 week pregnancy was over.  My baby had died.

They told me the best thing was to have the procedure immediately, an overnight stay then home the next day.

I lay on the hospital bed in shock.  Just yesterday everything had been fine.  Life was good.  I could see the future and it looked beautiful.  In that terrible silence of the ultrasound, everything I thought I knew had fallen away and I was consumed by a kind of horror.

They wheeled me into the surgery waiting room.  I was the only patient there.  One nurse sat at a corner desk.  She didn’t look up or talk to me and moments later she left the room altogether.  Alone.  Just me and my beloved baby.

Then I heard the nurse’s radio playing on her desk, it was tuned to a local station which played mostly heavy rock music.  It was all I could do to breath calmly and not start bawling my eyes out and I just knew if ACDC, or something similar, came on after the news break I would lose it completely.

The news ended and a song began.  It was ‘Songbird’ by Fleetwood Mac.  So quiet and gentle, I was suddenly so grateful to be on my own.  I closed my eyes and said goodbye to my baby.

Just before the song ended, two lovely nurses came for me.  I was crying, but calm.

Eight years later, I still think of this baby every day.  And when I hear that song, I am so grateful for the comfort it brought me at such a heartbreaking moment of my life.

Songbird
by Christine McVie

For you, there’ll be no more crying,
For you, the sun will be shining,
And I feel that when I’m with you,
It’s alright, I know it’s right
To you, I’ll give the world
to you, I’ll never be cold
‘Cause I feel that when I’m with you,
It’s alright, I know it’s right.
And the songbirds are singing,
Like they know the score,
And I love you, I love you, I love you,
Like never before.
And I wish you all the love in the world,
But most of all, I wish it from myself.
And the songbirds keep singing,
Like they know the score,
And I love you, I love you, I love you,
Like never before, like never before.

Anonymous

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