Stephen

2 03 2013

They say that in a group of 23 people, there will be two people who share a birthday. I have only ever found one person who shared my birthday and birth year. That was Stephen. This is a very small excerpt of his story, the little bit that he was in my life.

Stephen.

Stephen was creative, a lateral thinker in a creative way that was not in any way applicable to work. He would leave funny little messages in the communication book at work (and apparently had graffitied a number of them in the library at Adelaide University, where he studied medicine). He was bright, very witty, but somehow a little out of step with the stereotypic doctor. And he loved to laugh.

Stephen drove the “fast brown car” which was an appalling poo-brown falcon in terrible condition. He had to put the front seat back in so I could sit in it – and it probably wasn’t very safe. It was fast brown car mark two – the first one had been trashed at a party when people jumped all over it (quite probably encouraged by Stephen).

As we were the same age, and attended uni at the same time in a relatively small city, it was inevitable that we knew people in common – and in fact had attended the same parties (most notably one in some share houses in North Adelaide featuring a band called “Buster Hymen and the Penetrators”. Classy. We were young, we thought it was funny. And it was certainly a memorable name. I can remember it almost three decades later.)

I met Stephen when we worked together at a medical service. We briefly dated but nothing came of it and we became friends instead, companions in the still dark nights inhabited by the chronically ill and the drug seeking. The living dead. We shared gallows humour and kept each other going. At least he kept me going. He was funny, zany, and bizarre, creative. He loved to entertain and confuse with his very off-beat humour. We would go out to breakfast at the Hilton and the Hyatt after night shift ended, with a group from a few other medical services and the local hospital A&Es. It was great to be relaxing and taking our time, then heading home while the rest of the world rushed off to work.

Stephen killed himself when we were 26.

He went home after night shift, put a tourniquet around his arm and shot up 15 ampoules of morphine. He was a doctor, so he had access and he knew what he was doing – almost. He was a big man – tall and solid (he called himself fat boy), and he passed out before he could release the tourniquet. The morphine didn’t kill him, but he wasn’t found for 12 hours, when he didn’t turn up to his next shift. He had been breathing about once a minute all day and had wiped out most of his brain from lack of oxygen. I had last spoken to him three hours prior to when he would have done it, when my shift finished before his. I could not tell anything was wrong. Even in retrospect, there were no signs. Nothing.

He spent the next two weeks in a coma in intensive care, in the hospital where he had trained. I have never prayed for someone to die, but for Stephen, I did. With the brain damage – only the brain stem was still functioning – he could never be more than a vegetable. This was an appalling outcome for a man who had been so lively, so witty, so clever. He had lived from his brain, his intelligence, and his charm. Just as arrangements were being made to transfer him to a permanent ward – a ward of the living dead where bodies that refuse to die are fed and washed – mercifully, he died. I doubt his family felt that way at the time, and maybe they still don’t, but for those with any medical knowledge, it was a blessing.

It was still terrible. I lost one stone of weight in a week. I retreated into compulsive behaviours – horse-riding and playing the same song over and over – Baby Animals ‘Lights out at Eleven’, (below). Even now I occasionally think about him, what he is missing, what his family is missing because he chose the way out that he did, what could have been. No condemnation, just deep sadness.

I heard his grandparents couldn’t believe he had suicided, and believed he had been murdered. His sisters were of course devastated. His parents kindly sent me a photograph and a letter. I can no longer picture his face except for the photograph, which is etched in my mind. I can’t imagine his voice any more. The letter spoke of their ongoing disbelief at what had happened. Pride at the man he was and how loved he was by so many friends, disbelief at what happened and a fathomless grief at the utterly unexpected and inexplicable turn of events that had taken him from them irrevocably. Their lives altered forever.

So why did he do it? I will never really know, but I heard much later that his girlfriend had got pregnant and she had had an abortion. He was brought up Catholic and couldn’t deal with it – in his mind, she had killed their baby. This post is not meant to be either anti-abortion, or anti-religion. There is no moral of the story, the meaning you overlay on the story says more about you than it does about Stephen or his girlfriend. The story is what it is, no more. And it may not be correct – it may be only the Chinese whispers that follow this sort of tragedy as people try to make sense of the insensible – and some try to lay blame.

There is no blame to be laid.

Thanks to the modern wonder of the internet, I can keep Stephen alive a little. I haven’t mentioned his surname, and I won’t post his photograph because he belongs to others – to his family. I can only share my memories, keep his humour, his bizarreness, his creativity alive in my mind. It was meaningful at the time. And we were young. This should never have happened, but it was his choice.

I am tempted to say, as they do, he will always be young, but he won’t. He is gone. He will never be anything now. He was my friend, but all I have is a photograph and a few scraps of paper.

****

If you are feeling distressed, please seek help. Don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem, no matter how overwhelming it feels right now.





If I won the lottery….Albergo Milano, Brunate

2 03 2013

If I won the lottery, this is what I would buy…

albergo milano in flames

High above Lake Como, perched on the top of a mountain by the funicular railway, sits an abandoned hotel. This imposing building has a majestic vantage point, overlooking the town of Como, the lake, and across the mountains and valleys into the distance.

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The line up the hill is the funicular railway, below

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The hotel is Albergo Milano, and it sits in the town of Brunate. I travelled by train from Milan to the town of Como, then walked around the edge of the lake to the funicular railway which took me to the top of the mountain. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had left the town of Como and entered the town of Brunate.

Brunate is a town of over one thousand people, situated atop the mountains overlooking the lake and with views over range after range of mountains disappearing into the misty distance. The roads run between houses perched on steeply sloping land, each angled to capture the amazing views.

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view from the top (above and below)

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The hotel is currently fenced off, a dusty shuttered building sitting waiting for its next life. In front are two rows of manicured trees, a shaded garden that on e no doubt saw elegant ladies taking the air, children running between the trunks and swinging from the branches, and perhaps afternoon teas sheltered from the hot mountain sun.

The former elegance of the hotel shines through its current condition. The shuttered windows have a patient waiting feel to the building; it is sleeping, awaiting someone to come and gently wake it for its next life, restore it to its former glory.


(Albert, the guardian of Albergo Milano shows us around the hotel)

This hotel captured my imagination, and stayed with me even as I travelled back to my real life in Australia. Thanks to the miracle of google I managed to identify it and find a partial history.

Now I just need the lottery or a fairy godmother / godfather, so I can restore it to its former glory and live happily ever after in Italy.

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Postscript: The hotel has apparently had fire damage – which was not really visible when I saw it.





Tough week?

2 03 2013

Perhaps it was the full moon. Maybe it was Mercury in retrograde (I don’t actually know what that means but several people told me it was this week). Or perhaps it is all just selective attention and confirmation bias.

Whatever you believe, it seems to have been a tough week for a number of my friends and colleagues.

So when the going gets tough….how do you survive, revive and keep yourself, your team and your colleagues motivated?

1. Review what happened. Is there anything to learn from it? Learn it, discuss it and move on. Blame and guilt are pointless emotions. Learn what you can then let it go.

2. Take a long term view. This is only one incident, one week. One bad week, bad decision or one unfortunate circumstance does not define who you are or what you are worth.

3. Be kind to yourself and others. Allow them to be kind to themselves. Beating yourself up doesn’t help. Sometimes you need a little quiet time to yourself, a chat with a friend, a pleasant distraction, a little treat. The important thing is to get yourself into a psychologically better place so you can move on and not let the negativity determine what happens next. Let it go.,

4. Work out what next. Also known as “getting back in the saddle”. Focus on the future, on your next step. This is not defeat, it is a temporary (transient) set-back. Resilience and persistence are your key words.

5. Conversely, know when to walk away. If the arena in which the bad thing occurred is not important….then why let it bother you? Focus on the meaningful actions, you don’t need to be 100% in all arenas.

Final thought: if the negative incidents are becoming a pattern….maybe there is a decision you need to make. You only get one life.





Why do you need permission?

1 03 2013

A former boss, whom I greatly admired (and still do), introduced me to the saying “better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission”.

I am not sure if it a generation thing, or just me, but when I was growing up, and starting my career, whenever I wanted to do something the answer was always – go and do some study, get a degree, get a job in the industry, get some experience, work your way up the ladder. All very safe and sound advice….but fundamentally stopped me from actually doing what I wanted to do. More fool me.

Gen Y doesn’t seem to have this problem, nor the Millenials, and whatever nickname has been allocated to more recent generations.

Case study number one – my friend’s son, who at age 18 with a friend wrote, cast and filmed a movie (The Powder Clock, below). Sounds like an amateurish exercise? It really isn’t, the production values are very good. As I said to his mother, she had clearly forgotten to tell him that 18 year olds can’t make movies.

Many years ago, I did a course called Money and You, which at that stage was associated with Robert Kiyosaki. One of the things that I distinctly remember him saying was that if you see a job that needs doing, it’s yours. What he meant was – this was your opportunity, and opportunities aren’t thrown your way for you to get someone else to do them, they are thrown your way for you to do them. If you can see it, then you have identified your niche.

Case study number two – When twelve year old Craig Kielburger heard about a Pakistani boy his own age who was murdered for speaking about about child labour, he started a charity called Free the Children with some classmates. It now works with the United Nations and has been a recipient on Oprah’s Angel Network. (For more examples of children who have started charities, try this website.)

So what if your passion is to start your own business? Think you need to get a business degree or an MBA? Attract seed capital? Again – if you don’t think you need permission, there’s nothing stopping you.

Case study number three – Its actually quite difficult to choose, there are so many child entrepreneurs. Some are marketing to kids, others (such as Archer from Leanna’s Hair Leanna ) market to adults and have international delivery options. Google child entrepreneur and prepare to be confronted with why you haven’t got your act together yet! (Of course it has to be recognised that these kids have very supportive parents who have facilitated their businesses happening, since they are underage and therefore unable to sign a contract….but still.)





Murano Glass, Venetian Restaurant, Grand Canal

24 02 2013

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We lunched on the banks of the Grand Canal.





the business of Venice

24 02 2013

When you think of Venice, you think of canals, obviously. But other than the canals, there are no motorised vehicles in Venice. No cars, motorbikes, trucks. Nothing. And the narrow laneways lead to steps and bridges, making any form of wheeled or motorised vehicles impractical. So how does the business of Venice get done?

Given the difficulty of traversing the streets of Venice with wheels, everything goes via the narrow and sometimes crowded canals. An excellent documentary called Venice 24/7 looks at the practicalities of life in Venice – including street names and numbers that are non-continuous, making finding addresses for emergency services vey difficult. (I was unable to capture a fire brigade boat, but Venice 24/7 also follows the fire brigade.)

My other big question, is how on earth have they retrofitted an electricity grid system, running water and sewerage in an ancient town with established buildings, water all around, sinking an average 1cm per year into the mud flats (but not evenly), and regular flooding that also fills the basements and ground floor rooms of buildings, houses, hotels and shops.

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Delivery boat on the Grand Canal

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And this is how goods and supplies are delivered to and from shops and businesses – handcarts. (above and below)

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Police boats (above and below)

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Water taxi

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Delivery boat unloading in the narrow canals

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Police boat in dock

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Early morning hand-cart deliveries, as the garbage waits to be collected (also using hand-wheeled trolleys)

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TNT postal deliveries

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Delivery of building materials – sand, concrete, bricks – also comes via boat

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Water buses

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More early-morning deliveries – preparing for the day before the tourists are up and about and the canals are crowded with gondolas. Note the crane on the boat furthest away, for unloading heavy goods.

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Buses leaving bus-stops on the Grand Canal.

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The boat on the left is the Magistrato Alle Acque – Servizio Informazione (Magistrate of the Waters)

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A row of Ambulance boats in dock near the hospital (above) and an ambulance on its way to a job (below)

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Waterbus driver – or pilot? captain?

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Bus route around the Islands of Venice

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Coast Guard

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prison guards





Venice in the evening

23 02 2013

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Piazza San Marco, with its distinctive pink (Murano) glass street lights.