Letter from GOD: Reaping what you sow

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Newton’s third law applies to both motion and human behaviour.

Dear Julia,

Wherever I go, patients explain away their injuries by telling me that “shit happens”.

The truth is, most of them just get what they deserve. You can break an arm tobogganing on an upturned car bonnet towed by a Hilux in Cunnamulla and tear a hamstring running away from a crabby quoll on Cradle Mountain.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” and Newton’s third law applies to both motion and human behaviour.

A former British army sergeant, now living in Ceduna in South Australia, told me that the arthritis in his knee was caused by an injury sustained when playing rugby in Kenya against Idi Amin. Reportedly, the future Ugandan despot was a tough, but fair, opponent. However, Idi’s memory of being forced to drink his post-match pints alone and outside, because of his colour, left a scar. Idi never forgot and the rest is history. We reap what we sow.

This week, back in the Victorian Mallee, a healthy old lady and an ex-St Kilda brothel madam gave me more lessons in karma.

Rugged up in a shocking pink cardigan to keep the cold at bay, Joan immediately put me on the back foot.

“I hope you’re better than that last locum. She got whooshed outta’ here after two days. Hopeless. No idea – like that new girl at the front desk just now. Took my temperature and asked if I had been to any ‘hot spots’. Silly question. Told her I’ve spent the last two days in front of the wood heater. Anyway, I didn’t come to talk about her, I need a check-up.”

I asked if there was anything in particular worrying her.

“Not a thing. That’s the problem! When my friends get together and talk about their health, I’ve got nothing to say. Feel completely left out.”

It was a quiet morning, so I took some time over the history.

“Past illness? Had tummy pain once in my early 20s and was operated on. They sent me from Lameroo to Adelaide on the goods train. Had to put railway sleepers either side of me to stop me rolling. Uncomfortable trip. Thought it was appendicitis but, when they opened me up, it turned out to be an ‘avarian’ polyp.”

I kept the “tough old bird” thought to myself and moved on to family history, which Joan took as an invitation to discuss her late husband.

“Met Arthur when I was unloading mallee roots at the Walpeup station in the early 50s, married six months later. Had his first nervous breakdown in ’71 and never really came good. Suicided three years later. Worst thing about drought is that men kill themselves.”

And children?

“Seven. Six still alive. None around here. Last time I had them all together was at Arthur’s funeral. Farm wasn’t big enough to make a go of things after the sister-in-law stepped in. Hired a lawyer and took half when Arthur’s parents died.”

My search for physical symptoms drew a blank.

“My bowels are regular. I was brought up to eat whatever’s on the plate and still do. Nothing died of natural causes on the farm when I was a child. If an animal looked sick, dad killed it and we ate it. I don’t believe in sugar diabetes or cholesterol either, so don’t bother me with blood tests.”

I examined Joan from top to toe and found nothing wrong. She thanked me, but wasn’t happy.

“You’ve been good, very thorough, but you haven’t been much help! I still don’t have anything to contribute when the talk turns to health.”

Not wanting the consultation to end on a sour note, I complimented her as she dressed.

“That’s a lovely cardigan! Did you knit it yourself?”

“Only one and a half sleeves. My sister in law, the one who took half the farm, did the rest but died before she finished. Nasty piece of work she was. Never forgave her. Pink’s not really my colour but we were about the same size. I don’t like seeing things go to waste and it’s nice to finally get something out of her.”

Bernice arrived in a top of the range twin cab with several dogs and a nasty laceration. We immediately hit it off.

“Max is my favourite dog! A stray kelpie pup I found in Wedderburn on my way up here. Love him to death. He’s a bit boisterous, though. Little bugger doesn’t realise how sharp his teeth are.”

Bernice and Max share 20 acres on the edge of town with 20 dingoes and an untrustworthy blue heeler. I couldn’t imagine the locals making her feel welcome.

“Dingoes are well behaved, but the heeler climbed the fence one night and knocked off several cats and a few roosters. Did the town a favour really. A couple of the sheep farmers gave me a hard time early on, tried to tell me what I could and couldn’t do. I soon sorted them out.”

Bernice knows how to handle men.

The only daughter of “a dysfunctional Broadmeadows family in housing commission chaos”, she grew up hard and fast. A victim of a stepfather’s child pornography ring at 13, she was on the needle and on the street by 16. Life changed at 30.

“I got clean and got off the street. Moved into a brothel, really classy joint in St Kilda. Worked my way up, studied accounting by correspondence and ended up running, then owning, the business. Made good money out of insecure tossers happy to pay over the odds to get their confidence back for an hour or two.

‘Turned 60 last year, retired and sold up. Always had a soft spot for dingoes because of my time on the street.”

According to the Japanese proverb, “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”

Joan, with her pink cardigan, and Uncle Leon in Sydney, prefer the shorter version, “The second mouse gets the cheese.”

Karma always gets you in the end.

Love, Dad

Dr Max Higgs, aka Grumpy Old Doctor, is a former country GP, a current rural and remote locum and a collector of stories

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