The (Merciful) Life

 In Patient Stories

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.

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