Letter from GOD: Speaking in tongues

6 minute read

Another letter to my daughter from her somewhere-out-there father.

Dear Julia,

It was a delight to finally spend time with Chloe on the weekend, even though I could barely understand a word she said.

I had not expected you and Benny to produce a Pentecostal offspring, but I see a bright future. Chloe has a complete prime ministerial skill set. Happy to prattle on in an unknown tongue for hours, so long as she has an audience, her grasp of glossolalia is impressive. Loud and spontaneous when dancing and singing, her happy-clappy abilities are highly developed. I did not witness any laying on of hands, but she definitely likes to reach out and touch things.  

As a first-time grandparent, I found her behaviour extraordinary. The sensible old doctor in me realises that it is simply part of normal infant development. I have seen enough of aged care to know that at the other end of life, some release a second wave of previously pent-up Pentecostalism.

People such as Connie, up here in the high country. Impossible to follow, her muttered monologues channel the late Joh Bjelke-Petersen; however, Connie is clear and tuneful in song.

One song.

A My Fair Lady fan, every morning after breakfast the nursing home is alive with the sound of Covent Garden – Connie’s reedy mezzo-soprano, on endless repeat:

All I want is to be somewhere

Far away from the cold night air

With one enormous chair

Oh! Wouldn’t it be luverly?


It would, but it’s not. And there is nothing “luverly” in Wayne’s world either.

My first patient of the morning, Wayne limped in on crutches with the chorus of AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way to The Top blasting from the pocket of his trackie dacks. He dropped the crutches and cursed.

“Nobody rings when you’re relaxing at home, but you get a thousand calls as soon as you go anywhere! I left Punchbowl for a quiet life, wanted to get away from the police sirens and the gunshots. I should turn the damned thing off!”

He took the call and had a brief, animated conversation.

“I’m a borderline atheist, but I’m starting to think that God is punishing me! I need time out before I resort to drugs or counselling.”

The problem today?

“My partner is having trouble with the ATM again. That machine has it in for us: either it swallows our card or refuses service and spits it out – happens all the time.”

And the medical problem?

“Got a rash. I think it might be the antibiotics they gave me when I broke my leg. I was on a fully restored ’67 Harley and T-boned a wombat that came out of a culvert. Didn’t see him.”

Any known allergies?

“Before my liver transplant I couldn’t even be in the same room as a cracked egg. Anaphylaxis.”

And antibiotics?

“Flucloxacillin. I was attacked by bed bugs in a motel in Shepparton once and got given that for a skin infection – came out in a rash all over.”

Which antibiotic are you taking now?

“Flucloxacillin. The problem with eggs disappeared when I got the new liver, so I thought all my allergies had gone.”

I have never known an organ transplant to cure allergies.

“Probably a lot of things you don’t know, doc. That transplant changed me completely. I used to be a really dumb prick, kicked out of school at 12. I’m much smarter now. Can do sudokus and know all about maths and physics.”

I must have looked sceptical; Wayne raved like a man possessed.

“In Euclidean geometry, Pythagoras’s theorem states that ‘a’ squared plus ‘b’ squared equals ‘c’ squared, where ‘c’ is the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle. The area of a circle is pi times the radius squared and the circumference is pi times the diameter. Pi is an infinite decimal commonly contracted to 3.14159.  Avogadro’s number is 6.02214076 times 10 to the power of 23.”

And so on through Newton’s laws of motion and ending with an overview of Einstein’s special theory of relativity. It was like listening to Professor Julius Sumner Miller on speed.

“I was never taught that stuff. I’m just an ex-junkie who got hep C and was transplanted with both the liver and the education of a clever person. No other way to explain it.”

I didn’t try.

Nugget is 80, in full control of his mental faculties, speaks only in plain English and failed his driver’s licence medical today. He has lost his glasses; they are at the bottom of the Wakool River, somewhere in western NSW.

“I go fishing on my own every year. Got a camp site on my cousin’s farm near Moulamein, always come home with a few nice Murray cod and a load of red gum firewood. Anyway, I was leaning over the side of my boat to check the shrimp net and my specs slipped into the drink.

“I was only in two feet of water with a good sandy bottom and it was a warm day, so I dropped anchor, stripped off, hopped in and started feeling for them with my feet. Tried for a good 15 minutes with no luck, turned around to get back in the boat and found it had drifted downstream a bit – the anchor rope is about 20 yards long. I took a few steps after it and found myself in cold water up to my balls.

“Made me think a bit. I’m not much of a swimmer. I pressed on and within another five yards was chest deep and the current had picked up. I’ve never been religious, but for a moment I could swear I heard God telling me to give up and let him sweep me into his welcoming arms.

“Just my tinnitus and an over-active imagination, of course. I came to my senses, focused on the wood and the fish. If I drowned, someone would be glad of the redgum, but the cod would go off and be wasted. That thought gave me the strength to make it back to the boat.”

Nugget is off to Specsavers tomorrow.

“After that, I’ll have a snoop around the shops and have a bit of a perv.” He needs his licence and wants “to make sure the new glasses are working properly”.  

You might judge that a bit creepy and inappropriate; I think it’s honest and innocent. Most things we do at the beginning and near the end of life are.

Amen and hallelujah!

Love, Dad

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

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