Sliding Doors

I think we have all had a “sliding doors” moment.  A single decision that sends you on a certain path, and if but for that decision lives could have been different, changed or never even eventuated.

I made a decision when I was 19 years old that has had everlasting effect and impact on my life to date.

My short-lived marriage at the age of 18 was over (no surprises there but that is a whole other story!) and I had moved to a little flat in Norwood.  It was a small ground floor flat just for me.  It was sparsely furnished including a pine lounge suite that no one was allowed to sit on as it “squashed” down the cushions and made it look messy lol.  I also had a few Marilyn Monroe and James Dean black and white pictures which I carelessly hung from nails I hammered into the wall. Wasn’t a problem until I moved and had to fix the mess that made but luckily Andrew was around by then to help. But this place was all mine.  I could barely make rent each week; I only ever had fruity lexia cask wine and a bowl of smarties in the fridge.  How I survived financially and nutritionally is beyond me but I did.  I didn’t sleep well there either as I was quite nervous.  Luckily I met an old policeman one day.  My next door neighbour had clothes stolen from her washing line which unnerved me no end and he came to investigate and so we met.  From that day on he used to beep his horn as he drove by at night to let me know he was working and keeping an eye on me.  Used to make me feel so much better.  Nothing untoward about his intentions at all.  I was probably young enough to be his granddaughter.

Anyway moving to Norwood was a big change and quite a distance from Brighton and Oaklands Park where I had lived previously.  I had to find new local everything which included a new Doctor.  I distinctly remember getting the yellow pages out (long before Google lol) and scanning for a GP Clinic that I could walk to.  That was very important as I didn’t drive.  In fact, I didn’t get my license until I was 27 years old – yet another story!!!

So I chose the Practice closest to me and made an appointment.  I had a lot of stomach problems which started when I was a teenager and lasted into my mid-twenties so I was somewhat of a regular patient.  I walked into an old heritage house, converted into a surgery.  Quite different to the modern clinics I had been to previously.  It was a nice feel as you entered with very high ceilings and nice cornice detail.  Behind the reception desk sat a very pretty girl with a mass of dark, curly hair.  She had a beautiful smile and her eyes danced with mischief and vitality.  Her greeting was so warm and friendly.  I remember feeling rather chuffed with myself, what a good decision I had made. The GP, who is, in fact, my GP still today, was just as lovely.  Very old fashioned as he came out in his white doctor’s coat (which he still wears) with such an empathetic manner.  He turned out to be the kind of GP that made unannounced house calls when my boys were unwell as babies just to check on them.  When Jesse was born he made a surprise visit to the hospital to welcome him to the world.  Yep.  He is that kind of doctor.  One in a million.

So as luck? would have it I was back and forth to see him quite regularly and began to have longer chats with the lovely receptionist.  We started to continue on conversations from the previous visits.  I really liked her.  One day, as I was leaving she stood up to go on her break and said: “Do you want to come for a coffee?”  I didn’t need to be asked twice.  And just like that, a friendship began.

Her name is Tracey.

Coffee dates turned into long lunches.  Then evening drinks at The Directors.  Sunday drinks and platters at the house she shared with friends in Parkside.  Very soon we were spending lots of time together.  We just clicked.

Then one day she met “that” guy.  A farmer from the West Coast who she was asked to take out with his mate and show him a bit of the Adelaide nightlife.  She was not keen to do this at all but, good natured as always, she did.  That night he certainly made an impression but at no stage did we think that a wedding would be on the cards a few years later.  Nor did we think that he would become my husband’s dearest friend and closest confidante.  Two men, both left-handed, both barracked for Sturt footy club, both loved red wine, both laughed easily and both would go on to be wonderful family men.

So my city girlfriend married the farmer called Tim and moved to a life on the land.  What a difficult transition that was but she embraced it with full gusto.  I have many reasons to admire her and how she adapted to this complete change of lifestyle. Being 6.5 hours drive away from all friends and family is just one of them.  However, her newfound address provided us with the perfect destination to get away and get away we did.  Often.

Andrew would have moved up there in a heartbeat.  He loved everything about the farm and loved spending time with Tim. They would both be off all day working on the farm while we would stay in the house with our wine and platters talking.  Then at night, we would all head off into the bush for a bonfire, wine in hand.  The very best of times.   Andrew and Tim became very close very quickly.  To the point that two weeks before our own wedding Andrew casually says “I think I am going to ask Tim to be a groomsman.”  I nearly fell off my chair.  “WHAT?? You can’t do that at this late stage, everything is organised.”  Our wedding was very small and we had one attendant each.  Clearly, men have no idea what goes into planning a wedding because he was quite taken aback at my reaction.

Soon enough along came our children.  Their beautiful girl was first.  Our visits to the farm became even more frequent after she was born.  I adored her. She became the daughter I never had, still is.  I am her “chosen” godmother and very proud to be too.  Next, their gorgeous, curly-haired boy followed by my Jesse 6 months later and then Matthew 3.5 years after that.  Tracey and Tim are Jesse’s proud godparents.

Both my boys shared their Dad’s love of the farm lifestyle.  The freedom for three boys to be able to set off for the day exploring is just priceless.  There were no devices, TV, PlayStation.  Just imagination, copious amounts of sticks, bonfires at night, camping in tents, no showers and lots of fun.  We literally only saw them when they found their way back to the house for food.

We continued to visit as often as we could with Jesse spending some holidays up there without us.  He, in particular, has always had a close connection with both Tracey and Tim, just as happy in the shed with Tim as he is chatting to Tracey in the kitchen while she cooks up a storm.  His childhood experiences on the farm and chats with Tim are the sole reason he chose to study Agricultural Sciences at Uni.  He is now in his final year and his future prospects look bright all because of the shared love he had for their farm.

I should mention that I too loved the farm but my motivation to go was to spend time with my friend.  I loved the remoteness and peace that the farm had but would have found it quite daunting to live so far away from everyone.  Tracey is way more social than I so again, I take my hat off to her not only for choosing to give up all that was familiar to her for the man she loved but for doing so with such an open heart and becoming an integral and valued member of the rural community.

Our friendship has also seen more challenges than any other.

Within a week of Tracey and Tim’s son being born in May 1996, Tracey was told that she would need a double lung transplant.  She had been terribly unwell throughout her pregnancy with extreme breathlessness and Drs were waiting to safely do a chest x-ray once she had delivered her baby to see what was going on.  The x-ray revealed that she had lost over 70% of lung function due to an undiagnosed genetic issue which pregnancy hormones had brought to the fore.  I still get goosebumps remembering the phone call from Tim telling us that news.  Andrew and I went into the hospital to see them, I was 3 months pregnant. We walked into her room to see Tim holding their newborn son and my dear friend in bed with an oxygen mask, their faces showing the shock and disbelief of such a diagnosis.

Tracey’s transplant story is a whole other blog but suffices to say it was an incredibly scary, emotional time.  They initially went back to the farm but after a few close calls decided it was necessary to stay in Adelaide and be closer to medical help if needed.  Tracey was feeling very vulnerable and was now on 24-hour oxygen.  There is also a certain protocol one has to go through to be put on a recipient-donor waiting list so it wasn’t until August that she was officially on that list.

Two things that happened during that time I still think about today.  Tracey and I were always trying to be thinner than we were.  We did aerobics classes together, not very successfully as we laughed too much, we had tried many diets between us but bottom line we just liked our wine too much.  One day Tracey came to our house.  For someone needing new lungs, she looked amazing.  White pants, blue and white striped top, she was very, very slim and with that gorgeous face and those eyes that were still sparkling, she looked fabulous and I told her so.  She smiled and said “Yes.  You and I say we would die to be thin.  Well, now I am.”  To this day we can still look at each other and say “Be careful what you wish for because it might just come true.”

The other thing that I can never forget is a weekend away that we had.  It was January 1997 and Jesse was only 10 weeks old.  We all decided to go to Victor Harbor for a change of scenery.  Tracey was very weak and the oxygen cylinder was dragged behind her wherever she went.  Her son was a happy, noisy 8-month-old who she couldn’t even pick up which was in stark contrast to me being as fit as a fiddle and Jesse being a clingy, sensitive, serious  10 week old.  It’s very difficult to look at your once vibrant friend and see her struggle just to breathe and walk around.  I felt guilty that at the happiest time of my life she was going through the most frightening time of hers.  We were thrilled to have our boys so close together but all this other stuff was not part of the plan.  The sound of her oxygen tubing swishing behind her on the floor will stay with me forever.

So the transplant went ahead March 1997 and was a resounding success.  We put off Jesse’s christening until we knew that Tracey would be well and back in Adelaide.  The day arrived, 13th July and it was a heartfelt celebration of new beginnings and the joy that she was here with us still.  I remember when we asked her to be Jesse’s godmother.  I had no doubt she would be ok, I really didn’t.  That’s not to say I didn’t worry but I just couldn’t see a time when she would not be around.  She looked up at me with those big eyes and said: “Do you think I will be here still?”  I didn’t flinch because I truly believed my answer.  “Absolutely,” I said.

Now incredibly, in the 20 years since her transplant,  Tim has also had very serious health issues not once but twice and Tracey went on to lose a kidney to cancer as a result of the immunosuppressant’s she must take for the rest of her life. I was looking after her kids while she went to get those results.  I saw her pull up in her car and she was carrying a bottle of champagne.  I ran outside and said, “Good news then?”  She replied, “No, it is cancer, so let’s drink this while I still have two kidneys.”  I kid you not.   Like we have so often said their story would be a great Australian Story on the ABC but for the fact that the episodes only go for 30 minutes lol.

Recently too, Tracey had to fight for her life when she succumbed to a “perfect storm” of lung infections that saw her in the Royal Adelaide Hospital for 4 months, many weeks of that time in ICU.  Seeing her wired up to every machine, able to hear a little but not speak……………….very confronting. Andrew and I would drive home speechless in the car, quietly processing our own thoughts.  It took me back to visiting my Dad in ICU, the power of the memory of sounds and smells.

Tracey’s amazing vitality at the darkest of times was still there, even in ICU.  Her spark for life visible ever so slightly which filled me with the hope that she was going to be ok – again!!!  One visit with her daughter was particularly uplifting.  It was the day that Trump won the Presidency.  We walked in and went either side of her bed, parting the wires to each hold a hand.  I leant over to smooth her hair back and said hello and advised her that “OMG, Tracey you won’t believe it but Trump is going to be President.”  Bearing in mind Tracey was intubated so couldn’t speak, her eyes flew open and she did an eye roll.  We were overjoyed and laughing.  She was fighting hard and had not lost her sense of the bloody ridiculous.  Tracey also remembers another conversation which gives you a little insight to our black humour.  As I said goodbye to her one day I leant over and whispered, “If you see a bright light do NOT go towards it!”  I knew she would have found that comment funny but I never thought she would actually have heard it let alone remember it.  So to anyone visiting loved ones in ICU talk to them as if they can hear everything because you just never know what’s going on behind all those machines.

So from that random choosing of a GP, we found best friends, godparents, I became an adopted godmother, Jesse found a career path and we learnt over and over again that good health is everything as is a healthy dose of hope.  If we lose hope in life we have nothing.  She has shaped how I live my life in many ways. We have learnt the true meaning of “through good times and bad.”  Tracey has personally been responsible for putting me outside my comfort zone on many occasions.  She has taught me resilience and to live in the moment.  We have had times of seeing less of each other, largely due to being geographically further apart as lives got busier, but we always remain deeply connected. We have never had a cross word.  She knows I have lost my way these last 3 years and she has cried with me, supported and cared and given me space to just be.  “You have always retreated when life gets hard till you figure things out.  You will be ok.”  She said that to me just last month and it was good to be reminded that how quiet I am being at the moment is normal for me.

Thirty-three years of friendship from one random decision.  And you know what?  When I got home from that very first doctor’s appointment all those years ago there was a message on my answering machine advising that I had, in fact, missed my appointment.  Turned out I went to the wrong doctor’s surgery.

I don’t think so.

Do you have a “sliding door” story?



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