Monday, May 21, 2018


Every (well, several of them) morning when E@L takes the excellent Singapore public transport to his office way up in the North-East, temptingly close to the airport, he walks down his street to the corner of the main road, to the bus stop (or to the train station, depending on his whim, and the weather), and he is confronted by droves of small children.

They are in their peak cuteness phase, toddling to keep up with their parent or minder, or scooting on mini-scooters (they are under 12, so E@L permits this). They are all tidily dressed in well-ironed pink checked gender appropriate uniforms: shirt with shorts, or a dress, shiny shoes. They are heading to the old building next to E@L's condo. It was refurbished into an upper-echelon pre-school a few years ago.

(E@L recalls it from when he first came to Singapore as a ramshackle old place, dark and a bit spooky, most likely destined, he wrongly assumed, for a complete replacement with a crappy modern, too-small roomed, over-priced, low-rise apartment (height restricted area!) abomination. But no, it was restored into a "Keeping those annoying creatures out from under mum's feet" operation instead, and it looks like it's doing well.)


Often E@L has seen one particular lad going slower than the others, on his way to the kindergarten. It's not for lack of enthusiasm though. He moves with an agitated gait; his arms splayed and flailing, his legs kick out in jerks and spasms. His head stays relatively still however, and he seems quite capable of keeping his balance for much of the time, teetering a bit, without his two minders, or maybe with only one.

(Birth trauma or prematurity or something, has left cystic gaps near the middle of his brain that have severed the pathways of his motor nerves to give him such a manifestation of cerebral palsy. For several reasons, E@L prefers to slot his small change into, of all the options, the box held out by the Singapore Spastic Society's porcelain leather and steel calipered girl who stands humbly, demurely, sadly, aching to be pitied, or forgiven, in a blue dress and white pinafore at the exit to the Cold Storage super[well, reasonable]market where he shops.)

This morning, the young boy has ventured from the concrete path, his two minders chasing him as he moves as quick as he can, unaided, on to the wide nature strip, under the lee of a tall tree. There, anfractuous roots are exposed, certain to catch his feet. But he easily skips over them and makes a clang on the steel cover of a concrete drain access. Perhaps he is heading to a small construction machine, a digger parked behind a safety barricade on the grass. (The area is always being dug up and restored.)

His face is aglow, beaming blissfully! His eyes wide and his mouth full of laughter - this was all amazing to him. What joy to see a digger! Look at it! All yellow, metal, angular, mechanical, and caked in mud! How awesome!


This same morning, after 10 days of following his bosses advice: "Take it easy and rest at home, big fella", E@L has to go the office to get his replacement work visa. He is reluctant, like most of these little kids. His eyebrows are close together in a scowl, as they often are when he is outside (or inside). It may be that the sun had assaulted his eyes when came out of the apartment (he raises his arms across his face in a mock vampire pose and hisses, but no-one is there so the gag remains his own, for himself to enjoy with a sardonic grunt as he takes out his sunglasses), or it may be chronic misanthropy, but the permanent crease to the left of his glabella* is a reminder to him, in the mirror, of how little he sometimes admires the physical world.

Now, as he walks, head down, on his street towards the gauntlet of children, his sunglasses are on, his ear-pods are in. They cancel (at $400, so they should) the white noise of the planet, the chatter of the children, the roaring traffic, replacing it all with a left-of centre political podcast which is in the business of confirming all the nastiness and misery that pervades the planet. His feet ache already (still!) despite expensive medication. His chest feels funny. Is it another heart attack, more angina? Can he take another step without falling down dead? Shrug. So what? Or should he belch away some gastric wind; would that be the issues this time?

He knows he has limited time - a mild heart attack two weeks ago... Wake up call number two. But the arteries can't be stented this time. So it's next week for the big bypass operation. He wishes he didn't know so much about cardiac surgery.

He wishes he hadn't observed open heart surgery himself, seen the beating heart glistening in the space between the retracted halves of a split sternum, watched it slow and then pause as the heart-lung machine took over. He wishes he hadn't wondered if they would be able to start it up again.

He doesn't know everything about the procedure and its complications, but enough to scare the living shit out of him if he lets the thoughts creep in... And he knows exceptionally well how smoothly things go when they go right, and how quickly they can go wrong. He has worked in, or visited in his clinical/commercial capacity, hundreds of hospitals over the last 40 years....

He looks up to see a spastic child in rapture at the orange safety barrier next to a small dirty excavator.


Hey, E@L, what's your problem? You're rich beyond your needs, you have a ridiculously untaxing job where you turn up, sit quietly and unobtrusively, keep your poppy-head down, and take home a packet of money each month. You travel extensively for work into fascinating places, stay in great hotels. You have all the books you (and 500 other people) would ever need, let alone read. Your domestic helper has been cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for you this last week - plus popping her head in at night to confirm you are still breathing.

You are a literate, well-fed(!), employed, home-owning, tertiary-educated, Australian, white male. You are well into the top 1% of the earth's human inhabitants.

You have friends and acquaintances coming out of the Whatsapp and FB wazoo.

What is there to melancholy about? Really. Why be sad? Harden the fuck up, snowflake.

Why worry?

Open heart surgery coming up next week, E@L points out. I could die. Really, I could. This is no joke.

Is that it E@L? Is that what you're concerned about? Everyone knows your heart will, literally, be in good hands, in a world class place.

Stop reading about Ivan Ilyich, and stop memorising those meaningless Japanese Death Haiku.

That 1-3% risk, does it really matter? Just because the previous 97-99 patient were fine doesn't mean you number is up. That's the Gambler's Fallacy: you know this. You're not a smoker, not diabetic, only 60.


As one of those Japanese poets says: If you don't wake up, you'll never know that didn't wake up. If you do wake up, even better.


Yeah, pain, pain, bad, bad, bad pain for a few weeks. Big man, be tough. It's the price to pay for the next 10-plus years of not worrying about any funny feelings in you chest, because you know all has been sorted.

Maybe even 20 years of getting back on track with your life. Writing (good, bad, crap, funny or not, who really cares?), travelling with friends, laughing, and enjoying great times those good people in amazing places with wonderful wine and food. Won't it be magnificent! Decades of it!

So wake up to yourself now, instead. Look at this kid on the nature strip by the digger.

Give the world a second chance, be thrilled by it. Jump for joy. Laugh. Crack a bottle of that 2006 Barossa Valley Shiraz tonight (and give me a call when you do).

Be the ecstatic kid with cerebral palsy, not your miserable old self.

Enjoy life. It's all you've got.


Good luck with the surgery,


and never refuse an offer of that blissful pain relief.

(* Look it up.)

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