From Bob's desk
Hello out there to all my loyal readers and everybody else in cyberspace.
I’ve been getting heaps of letters from people wanting, demanding to know why my latest Les Norton novel, High Noon in Nimbin, is over four months late. Am I dead, am I crook? Am I alive, am I in gaol? What’s the story? Now, before I go on, I want to state that I hate being a whinger and I hate listening to whingers. But for a couple of reasons, I’ll have to give you the whole sorry saga – and it is a saga.
A lot of people come up to my book signings thinking I’m Les Norton. They expect to see this super-fit, red-headed bloke sitting there looking like he’s ready to take on the world. Instead they get something more like Prince Charles. An overweight bloke in his sixties with a big nose, big ears, going bald. The main difference between me and Charlie is, although we both share the same birthdays, when Charlie was hitting the polo fields and tossing Lady Di up in the air, I was hitting the pills, pot and piss and hanging out with some of the weirdest, strangest women you would only find in a novel by Charles Bukowski. Two of them showed up in Goodoo Goodoo: Jade Byscane and Woody the Rainbow Princess. Both were a lot of fun until they decided they wanted to drive me even crazier than what I am and I had to say ‘adios senoritas’. Around that time my favourite drink was Jack Daniels, soda water and chocolate flavouring; a one-way ticket to diabetes and a crook ticker. I swapped the chocolate flavouring for insulin injections then went in for a bloke’s equivalent of a de-coke and valve grind: prostate surgery. This was fantastic except I didn’t take it easy like they told me and I haemorrhaged, blocked up and started pissing blood.
So I had to go back into hospital and get irrigated. After a few years the de-coke and valve grind started to wear off a bit, so while I was writing High Noon in Nimbin, I had a bladder operation to get things going again. I also had to arrange the sale of my mother’s home at Maroubra and get the horrible, screeching old viper into a nursing home. I based Mrs Hedstrom in The Tesla Legacy on my mother and that’s exactly what she’s like.
Despite the delays, and the three months of pissing oyster shells after the bladder operation, things are looking good and I’m nearing the end of High Noon in Nimbin, when I started getting all these strange pains in the gut and noticing blood where it shouldn’t have been. Luckily I’ve got a great GP, Dr Frank Vella at Terrigal Medical Centre. He fast-tracked me for a colonoscopy and sure enough, I had bowel cancer. No pun intended, but when I found out, I just about shit myself.
However, that was the bad news. The good news was, they’d found it early, they could get it all out, and I wouldn’t have to have chemotherapy. But they would have to remove a fair bit of my bowel and I was going to be sick, sore and a sorry little girl for a while. Plus I was going to have to wear a bag till they sewed me back together again. Not much to look forward to.
A person called a stoma nurse shows you how and I wouldn’t have their job for all the money in the world. I won’t go into the smelly details. But golly, the bags are good when they leak or burst and you find yourself covered in liquefied crap. Especially during the night. Then for some reason my heart rate hit 150 on Friday night and they thought I was going into cardiac arrest. So they bundled up all my gear up and raced me down to the cardiac ward. After a rotten night of no sleep, covered in monitors, my heart settled down and they wheeled me back to my room where I could lie in misery, shoot morph and stare out the window.
I was lying there in a nice morphine haze when a physiotherapist lobbed and said we were going for a walk. A walk? Christ! I could hardly move. But no, Mr Barrett. Walking is very important, after an operation you seize up. So off I went with the physiotherapist, drips, catheters, monitors, morphine button and everything else hanging off me, and we did a scorching four laps of the corridor. And the whole time you’re holding your stomach terrified you’re going to fall over, sneeze or cough and rip everything apart.
The next day I got good news. They were going to take the catheter out. Out it came and me and Mr Wobbly gave a big cheer. The cheering didn’t last long. I couldn’t piss. So back in it went. In and out four times till Mr Wobbly and I were begging for mercy. At the end of the week, the prognosis was that the reason I couldn’t piss was because when they removed the cancer, they’d nicked the nerves to my bladder, which stuffed the operation I’d had months earlier; I’d pissed all those oyster shells for nothing. So they were getting a urologist in to give me a TURPS. Like a repeat de-coke and valve grind. I had to cop another operation on top of the cancer one and I’d be in hospital at least another week. I couldn’t believe it. So they starved me, then wheeled me off once more, operated on me again and I woke up in more pain than ever with a catheter in my stomach, like a rubber meat skewer with a plastic on-off valve at the end, which had to stay there for six weeks.
After two weeks they figured there wasn’t much more they could do for me, so they booted me out. I felt like an absolute shithouse and I’d lost twelve kilograms. Nevertheless, I have to state, the staff and nurses at North Shore Private Hospital were fantastic. Both the men and the women. They do a demanding, non-stop job under difficult circumstances and they manage to come up smiling. God bless each and every one of them. They deserve more money and appreciation for what they do.
Being absolutely buggered and living on my own, I arranged for this woman I knew to look after me: get my food, take me down for coffee and get the paper, etc. Easy money and plenty of it. She nearly drove me mad. All she did was whinge, complain, moan, bitch and lay all her problems on me at the top of her voice. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I could hardly move. All I could do was to sit there in my traumatised, miserable, painful state and listen to it. I got rid of her after a week before I swallowed rat poison. I had no appetite and I’m used to living in squalor, so it didn’t make much difference.
The first day I drove my car to the shops, I side-swiped a guard rail then backed into a wall at the local resort, smashed up half my car, and a concerned citizen rang up the police. The wallopers and a woman from the hotel armed with a camera cornered me outside a nearby coffee shop. But after listening to my tail of woe and noticing all the tubes and junk hanging off me they figured I wasn’t pissed so they let me go. Just pay for the damage. After that I drove like Grandma Duck and at home my world became an electric recliner, my big screen TV, a stack of DVDs and painkillers. Gradually I started to feel better. I even went for a couple of very slow walks. But walking with a catheter is like getting round after a pygmy’s fired a poison arrow into you. So I brushed the walking and turned into another of the most diabolical, hate-filled monsters on the planet: a grumpy old man with a walking stick.
After six weeks of grumping around and getting used to my stoma, it was time to go back to Sydney and get the catheter out. The relief was almost impossible to describe. Joy, ecstasy. Free movement. So now, although I’m still shuffling around on my walking stick, I’m feeling better by the day. Then after a week or so, I felt worse than ever. I had absolutely no strength, no colour, cramps and, even though we were in the middle of a heatwave, I’m sitting around with my teeth chattering, shivering with cold. I had to go and see the stoma nurse at Gosford hospital who told me I looked terrible and to go and get a blood test. So I saw Dr Vella the next morning, gave a urine sample that looked like vanilla yoghurt and had an urgent blood test. Dr Vella rang me in the afternoon and told me I had to go straight into hospital again. I had a raging infection that was heading for septicaemia and if I didn’t get to the hospital in twenty-four hours I was off to the big literary festival in the sky. Don’t argue. Throw some stuff in a suitcase and he’d be round to get me in an hour. So Dr Vella came round, got me into Gosford hospital pronto and I honestly owe him my life.
After four days of getting pumped full of antibiotics they let me out. This time I had another catheter jammed up my wozza attached to a plastic bag strapped to my leg. Oh the joy. It hurt to sit down, it hurt to stand up and it nearly killed me getting in and out of my car. It was the middle of summer and I couldn’t wear shorts or have a swim. And when you went to bed at night, you attached the nozzle to a bigger plastic bag at the end of a longer tube, so when you got up to empty your crap bag, you dragged it around behind you like an olden day convict with a ball and chain. You have to give it to modern day medicine. They might keep you alive longer. But shit they can think up some ingenious ways of torturing you. After a month of misery, no sleep and DVDs, I went to see the same urologist who did my bladder in the first place – Dr Stephen Ruthven – who got me back into North Gosford Private Hospital where I could get the second catheter out. And it would stay out, providing I could drink three jugs of water over four hours and empty my bladder three times. Which I did. I had to force things a bit. But the plumbing was pretty much working again. ‘Glory hallelujah!’ After I ran around and hugged all the nurses, they let me out. I didn’t have to stay the night and I was home and hosed, if you’ll pardon the pun. Unfortunately, Mr Wobbly hasn’t got lift off at this stage. But at least he’s got ignition.
So that’s most of my story. If I’ve come over like a whinging bad mug I’m sorry. But I had to tell it like it is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’ve got a stack of letters piled up which I’ve been too knackered to reply to. Even writing this has taken me ages because I still haven’t got all my strength back. I feel tired all the time. Which is understandable, I guess. Try getting over a bladder operation, cancer, a turps and blood poisoning and see how you feel. Secondly, I have to go back in for another operation, where they open me up and sew everything back together again and I get rid of the stoma. That’s the good news. The bad news is I spoke to a woman who went through exactly the same thing at exactly the same hospital with exactly the same surgeon. And according to my lady friend, the second procedure is as bad as the first. Which means I’ll be sitting around for another six weeks in my recliner, flatter than hammered cowshit and it will be at least June before I feel like doing anything. So I can’t promise I’ll be writing another book this year. I want to. Shit! I like nothing better than sitting in my office on these rotten, cold winter days with the heater going, belting out another Les Norton or whatever. But I’ll just have to see how I feel.
In the meantime, I’ve sent a heap of photos form Nimbin and the waxhead wedding at Bluey’s Beach. I’ve also put in some photos of me in hospital and with Dr Vella, the man who saved my life.
I wanted to put the photo in those diggers sent me from Iraq of that helicopter, but I’m buggered if I can find it. It’ll turn up and when it does I’ll put it up on the website. It’s a ripper.
Once again, I’m sorry I’m late getting the new book out, I’m sorry I’m late updating my website and I’m very sorry I haven’t been replying to your letters. But I have been a bit butcher’s hook with more to come. I’ll update the website after my next operation and hopefully I won’t be whinging as much next time. See you then and thanks for buying my books.
All the best,