‘What time will you be home?’
‘Oh haha,’ I say. ‘Sux-thirty, you mean. I’ll get the water boiling for the veg.’
‘How’s your arm?’ says Mike.
‘Sore. Both of them are.’
Yep. There comes a time in any grand adventure when it stops feeling like an adventure – it’s turned into your new life. And then you hit the speedbumps. Or, as we are in Christchurch, let’s say major detours.
Before you know it, the promised new direction has turned into a single lane of traffic going under 30km an hour. Add to that the inevitable string of traffic cones (a couple knocked over) and half a dozen chaps in high-vis scratching their heads and staring into a shallow hole like they’re expecting Jessica Alba in a bikini and hardhat to pop out of it and say howdy.
Safe bet to cancel your plans for the day. You’re on the slow road to nowhere.
Last week was my final week of work in a large company in Christchurch. I worked there for a few months and gained some valuable experience, but determined that it was time to move on. I planned for my last couple of days to really get stuck in and make a great parting impression.
Instead, I spent both days trapped in bed with a boil the size of a golf ball under my right armpit and another one the size of a pea under my left armpit. Uncomfortable, excrutiating and, to revert back to my fourteen-year-old vocabulary, ‘plain gross’.
A year ago I wrote an essay about my fear of getting sick and being alone, of being too proud to call friends for help when I could barely move out of bed. I was horrified of appearing helpless.
Martin girls are strong and they look after themselves. Where I did I get this message? Family, society, my own invention? Who knows. Regardless, I took it to heart and I turned it into my ‘thing’. I am capable. If I get sick, I pick myself up again. If I need to ask a favour, I repay it immediately with exactly the same help – accurate to the ounce – as was given to me. I don’t owe money. I carry my own pack when I go hiking, all 17kg of it, and if I fall down I jam a bandaid on the cut and carry on alone.
As it turns out, not such a healthy way to exist.
On Friday, after an agonizing and practically sleepless night with the swollen mass under arm burning, I registered at Mike’s family doctor. The old gent who saw me asked where I was from and then told me about his wife getting mugged in a Melbourne arcade when on a visit three years ago.
‘Oh dear!’ I said. ‘I’m sorry you had such a horrible experience.’ Was I apologizing on behalf of the whole of Melbourne?
‘What brings you in today?’ Dr M asked me. He leaned in to catch my response and I could see the hearing aid hooked behind one ear.
‘This,’ I said, lifting my right arm up and displaying the pinkish pus-filled lump in my armpit.
He winced, silently shaking his head.
‘It’s bad, isn’t it?’ I chattered as he poked at the boil. ‘Will I need antibiotics?’
‘Come next door and we’ll see the nurse,’ he said.
Seconds later I was flat on my back on the gurney, with Dr M hovering over me holding a syringe full of anaesthesia. ‘I’m not going to lie to you, this is really going to hurt,’ he said, positioning the needle directly over my engorged armpit.
Nurse C, a lady with short white hair and spectacles, stood behind him. ‘We don’t mind if you swear, dear.’
I can’t swear in front of these two lovely old people.
The thought zipped across my brain then out again as Dr M plunged in with the syringe. ‘Gosh that really stings…oh shit…OH F@#K!!!’
‘It should ease off in a minute, dear.’ Nurse C patted my shaking legs. ‘It had some adrenaline in it, so that’s why you may be feeling funny. We’ll leave you alone for a little while.’
Ten minutes later Dr M re-entered and picked up a scalpel. ‘This is going to be a bit nasty, sorry,’ he said.
At least ‘bit nasty’ was an upgrade from ‘really going to hurt’.
That evening, bandaged up and moaning, I displayed my war wounds to Mike. I’d need to visit the 24-hour clinic the next day to get my right armpit redressed. The smaller pea-sized boil on my left arm Dr M had said that he ‘would leave be for the moment’. A statement I was perfectly happy with. I wasn’t ready to face another jab quite yet.
‘What are the people at work going to think, me being off sick on my last day?’
‘Well, you are Australian.’ Mike mock recoiled at my glare. (Wikipedia list of armpit boil symptoms = swelling, pain, tenderness, dead sense of humour). ‘Jokes!’
I grumbled some more as he helped me get into bed, wincing as he lifted my arms into the men’s extra large t-shirt I was borrowing. The baggy sleeves hung well clear of my inflamed underarms and I slid under the sheet. ‘It was really nice of your Mum to take me to the doctor today. And to go and get my drugs for me.’
‘People care about you, Tamsin’ he said. ‘It’s what families do for each other.’
Well, score one for New Zealand.
Although I would much rather have finished up the job by being there on my final day, I’ve decided not to beat myself up about not being able to do that. We all hit bumps in the road. That’s life. Truthfully, I feel awkward about it. I also feel shy walking around with the bandages barely covering the underarm hair that I haven’t been able to get to shave yet.
But the whole hugely uncomfortable experience has not been without its lessons. I’m strong enough now to accept help, and grateful to have people around that care enough to have my back. And hey, I can withstand a needle jabbed into one of the most sensitive parts of the human body.
After all, I am Australian.