Another thing I like about sheep is how a ewe protects her lamb from a potential threat (like a sheepdog or approaching two-year-old); she stares at it and stamps one of her front legs.
This weekend Elsie climbed into bed and lay quietly between us while we dozed. Then she whispered,
‘Do you think anyone is having a birthday today?’
You bet, sister; five years old today. Later that day she held my hand as we jumped flowing gutters and ran across the street in the rain.
And that was cool. Because it’s really only recently that we’ve been allowed to touch her hands, let alone hold them. Any touch to her hands for the first five months of her life meant someone was about to dig through her skin with a needle to find a tiny vein that wasn’t yet ruined to insert another drip.
When she was in the Intensive Care Unit in Brisbane, a few months after she was born, a registrar came by Elsie’s bed. She was probably my age and was wearing a white coat. But she had stripey tights and what Elsie might now call ‘heaps of pigtails’.
That day I was concerned about Elsie’s swollen hands and asked, ‘Does her hand look fat to you?’
‘Yes, she’s putting on a lovely amount of weight.’
Wrong answer. Ewe feels potential threat.
I pushed for answers and we found out that Elsie needed an albumen infusion and back came the registrar with a bundle of sterile needles and her coloured bangles. Elsie’s nurse told the registrar she could have three goes at getting a drip in Elsie’s hand. Ewe starts to stare.
It was just before the third attempt that, just like a powerless ewe facing a hungry fox, I stamped my foot. I left the room and found the closest toilet down the passage where I lost it completely at the same time that my phone rang. It was Mum.
‘Darling, what’s wrong? Is Elsie okay?’
‘No!’ I cried. ‘Punky f#@&ing Brewster is trying to put a drip in Elsie’s hand and it won’t go in.’
Anyway, that’s why Elsie never let anyone touch her hands, and why our doctors are so competent and wonderful. Because they were once young timid registrars who were damn lucky to get three practice goes on critically ill babies.
And registrar-Punky, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re one of those competent and wonderful doctors now and Elsie would really like your hairdo.