The (Merciful) Life
I was swimming laps at the local pool on Friday, 24 October 2014 when my heart suddenly stopped. There was no warning or pain, and I did not know a thing about it.
Pool staff hauled me from the water and applied CPR until a paramedic team arrived, but this hardly captures the drama of what happened. My rescuers fought a long and hard battle, pressing, pounding and shocking my heart until it rebooted and resumed its normal rhythm. They saved my life.
What can I say to my saviours, whose names I do not yet know? It is difficult. It is not enough to thank them for having done a good job, or to tell them how grateful I am for their training and prompt action, even though all of that is true.
They did so much more than their job — they gave me back my life.
This is a deeply personal thing between the giver and the receiver. It cannot be put easily into words. I shall try to tell them, but they will know already.
To wake and find oneself in hospital as a heart patient is an experience that can concentrate the mind, but my initial response was disbelief. I had been a fit, active and independent man, rarely ill, so it all felt like some strange Kafkaesque dream. I realised soon enough that my life had taken an unexpected turn. I was lying in the MonashHeart cardiac care unit of the Monash Medical Centre, helpless and totally in the care of strangers.
I had known generally about the enormous social and technical complexity of any large public hospital, but not from first-hand experience. Now I was as a patient whose life depended on it. I emerged mightily thankful for the public hospital system.
I was impressed — most strikingly and unexpectedly — by the rich racial, cultural and ethnic diversity of the population that surrounded me and helped me through my illness.
I had been familiar with the idea of multiculturalism but could see clearly here that the public hospital offers perhaps the best showcase for all that is good about it and our immigrant nation.
I was happy and comfortable among these marvellous Australians and felt a renewed pride in my country.
Among the many things I shall remember will be the calm purpose and compassion of staff, and, even more so, the many small kindnesses that I received or observed.
I will remember especially a young man who sat for hours by his father’s bedside, talking softly to him in Arabic. He summed up exactly what I felt. “People are so merciful,” he said.