My medications and health support devices sit on top of the filing cabinet in my workroom. A Type 1 diabetic, I have two insulin injection pens and a glucometer to check my blood sugar three or more times a day. The glucometer uses strips contained in a small plastic bottle and a lancet for drawing blood. It’s a vital device that takes up a certain amount of room.
I am asthmatic and use a ventolin puffer for on-the-spot relief and another inhaler as a long-term preventative.
Following two heart attacks and a quadruple bypass, I have a suite of medications — for blood thinning, for cholesterol control and for blood pressure control.
I have a thyroid deficiency and medication for that. I also have a mysterious excessive prolactin secretion, which set off a panic and a scan of my pituitary gland. Among all the health issues I’ve had for the last 54 years since my diabetes was diagnosed, this was one of the scariest. A tumour on the gland can result in impotence and removal causes hair loss. I’m vain about my full head of hair and would rather retain my potency. Luckily there was no tumour and a pill controls the endocrinal disturbance.
Following a recent accident in which my elbow was smashed and my leg broken, I was hospitalised for six weeks. I recovered my mobility slowly after being in a wheelchair, then using an elbow crutch and finally a walking stick. To my distress, my legs swelled due to lack of exercise and strain on my heart’s pumping powers. The result was yet another pill to expel fluid and support my heart.
The top of the filing cabinet, which measures forty-five by fifty centimetres, is covered with boxes, packets, bottles and health accessories of one kind or another.
What has this to do with writing? Well, quite a lot. It is a truism that fiction writers draw on their own experience for material and my extensive medical history has given me a deep well of experience to plunder. Cliff Hardy’s mother was a diabetic so Hardy is able to describe her erratic and damaging lifestyle, her low-sugar episodes (hypos) and comas — behaviour and events I remember all too well.
In the novel Cross Off I was able to write from experience about the precise details of a hitman’s failure to do the job when incapacitated by a severe hypo.
I wrote the opening pages of the novel Deep Water, where Hardy has a heart attack, in hospital while recovering from my bypass. The doctors and nurses, the pre-op preparation, the rehabilitation, all fed straight into the fiction. In the following books Hardy is forced to follow a medication regime similar to my own and he exhibits the same attitudes of exasperation and resentment.
My frequent visits to the local pharmacy where the thick file of my prescriptions is held, gave me some useful dialogue. One day I said, ‘I sometimes want to throw all this stuff away. Taking all these bloody pills is so boring.’
Jim, the pharmacist, said, ‘Be more boring out at Rookwood.’
Thank you, Jim. The line is in a forthcoming book.