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The prospect of two days on the Southern Rail Trail sounded good.  I had ridden part of it in 2007 on the Great Victorian Bike Ride. I remembered a smooth packed dirt surface and trees lining much of the path.  An occasional break in the shrubbery offered views of pastures covered with sheep or a glimpse of rugged Wilson’s Promontory, the popular national park at the southern tip of Gippsland.

Our home base would be a motel in the small town of Meeniyan.  The main question mark for the Easter weekend was the weather.  Easter arrives  in the fall here in the southern hemisphere, and the weather is highly changeable.  It can go from summer to winter overnight.  There were showers predicted, so we packed rain jackets and fleeces.

The morning of our first day’s ride, my wife stepped outside and failed to see the edge between two concrete pads functioning as steps into our room.  She tried to cushion the fall with her arm.   Aside from some bruises and cuts, she did not seem to suffer from any lasting pain.  After breakfast we got the tandem out and started riding the path with the rest of our group.

The weather gods cooperated, and our 65 km (40 mile) ride to the town of Foster and back was tiring but uneventful.   We enjoyed the chance to catch up a bit with some riding friends we hadn’t seen in a long time.  The town of Foster was lively. There was a huge outdoor market going on in the sporting grounds where I had camped during the Great Vic ride.  Our odd recumbent bikes barely drew a second look.   We had a nice, leisurely lunch in the park, and returned to Meeniyan.  The climb toward Hoddle Summit seemed longer on the way back than it had earlier, the gates at each road crossing more numerous.  I was weary by the time we wheeled into the parking lot of the motel.

Dinner at the pub next to the motel offered such specialties as Outback Parmigiana (with cheese, bacon and gravy) and spatchcock (fried and flattened young chicken).  The food came quickly and filled us up.  We had nearly finished when I looked up and saw that the color had gone from my wife’s face.  She was getting sharp pains in the wrist of her left arm.  She had broken that same wrist two years earlier.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it was the knife and fork that triggered the pain.   By the time we got back to the room she was in shock.

In a Christian country like this one, Easter Sunday evening is not the very best time to head out in search of medical care.  We had ridden our bikes past a clinic in Foster, but Lorraine, our innkeeper, suggested the hospital in Leongatha.  I drove as fast as I could, but it was dark and there was fog hiding in the dips of the hilly road.

The hospital was right where Lorraine had said it was, but despite a scattering of parked cars, it looked dead to the world. There seemed to be no lighted area inside, and there was no sign of an emergency entrance.  I circled the parking lot, then parked and went on foot down a road designated ambulances only.  It threaded through a complex of buildings, none of which showed any sign of life.  I rang a buzzer at one building.  Nothing. I returned to the lot, got in the car and drove out in search of a petrol (gas) station.

The lady behind the counter was wary.  We had strange accents, after all, and we were asking for information that was not in her line of work at all.  I may have appeared a little anxious.  My wife was in pain and I did not relish the prospect of driving two hours back to Melbourne to find a hospital, then returning for our stuff.  Assured that the local hospital was open, we drove back.  Same action, same result.  Why did I expect it to be different?  There was no sign of anyone anywhere.  It was frustrating and I was losing my patience.

In the end, I asked our less-than-helpful gas station lady to call an ambulance.  It was the only way I could see to get the medical castle to let down the drawbridge.  We were less than five minutes from the hospital, so it showed up in no time.  The paramedics were very friendly.  They gave my wife a mild anti-anxiety drug in an asthma breathing device and popped her in a wheelchair.  I followed the ambulance back to the hospital.

We went to the main entrance.  There was still no sign of an emergency entry, but there was a button I hadn’t spotted earlier and a special keypad for the ambulance guys.   They wheeled her in and I followed.  A nurse came in right away and asked her questions.  One of the paramedics kept us company while we waited for the doctor.  He had participated in the creation of the bike path so he was keen to hear the good things we had to say about it.

The doctor came at last.  She was an older woman, friendly and nice.  She would wrap it up and put it in a sling but the X ray technician was not on call and would probably not be in the next day.  She could hand out pain killers.  That was the key thing.  My wife slept better than she had in years.

Next morning we packed up and drove back to Melbourne.  We hit the Royal Melbourne emergency ward in the early afternoon.  They had a busy waiting room.  On holiday weekends everyone drinks too much and gets careless.  The X ray guy was available, but there was a two hour wait for the doctor, a very young woman who seemed like she could still be in medical school.  There was no discernible fracture on the X ray, but she slapped a cast on anyway.

Scaphoid bones in the wrist are very small and sometimes breaks don’t show up for a week or more.  We’re still waiting to confirm the fracture, but our family doctor has no doubt it is broken.  In the meantime, I’m keeping the codeine just in case.  It is going in my medical kit.  I may need it for the next adventure, or I might need it for walking out the front door. You just never can tell.


A swollen and tender scrotum might be seen as something of an embarrassment, not a subject to write home about. I don’t think I would have made a visit to the Royal Melbourne Hospital on a Saturday morning if my wife hadn’t insisted, going so far as to phone me Friday night from Mauritius. The swelling came on suddenly. It was puzzling but I am reaching an age when bodily breakdowns (both major and minor) are not unknown. I have generally been blessed with good health so sudden aches and pains are somewhat alarming. My wife was concerned about my heart condition. She could visualize a blood clot ascending from my leg straight into the aorta. I know better than to argue, so I assured her I would make my very first trip to an emergency ward in Melbourne.

I had no idea where that might lead, so I packed pajamas, a couple of books and a toothbrush, just in case. Then I bought the newspaper and hopped on the tram. We don’t have our medicare cards yet, but we have taken out private insurance. Australia has a two tier system– a state-run medical system as well as a host of private insurance plans. What is strange is that the state subsidizes the cost of the private insurance. The private plans offer choice: you can see the doctor you choose in the hospital where you wish to be treated, get a private room, etc.

I was visiting the emergency room of a public hospital, so there was no choice. In the US or Canada, I would expect to wait for a long time before being seen by a doctor. I was mentally prepared to wait. Fortunately, the attendant at the admitting window was male, so I felt comfortable explaining the “problem.” I was given the clipboard with the sheet to fill out. There was hardly anything on it! No request for the last ten years of medical history (please explain every visit to a hospital) complete with box after box to check or leave blank covering every conceivable medical condition. I turned it over thinking I was missing something, then turned it, feeling guilty. I had failed a final exam because I couldn’t see the questions.

I was stunned to discover that a male nurse was ready to see me straight away. What was going on here? He checked out the nether region as I explained what I think might have caused it, a sudden cramp in my leg that was so painful I threw myself to the floor. It was as if someone with a voodoo doll (of yours truly) had grabbed my calf and squeezed, very hard. I didn’t actually mention the voodoo doll to the male nurse, hoping to give him the impression that I was actually normal, not given to hallucinations. Not a writer, in fact.
After one more brief visit to the waiting room, I was called in for an EKG. The doctor slipped in while that was underway. Aside from his interest in my prostate gland (since it could be related to the swollen sac) the doctor was great. He was personable, informative and reassuring. He told me that a blood clot in my leg wouldn’t end up blocking my aorta. He concluded that this may have been triggered by a four hour bike ride I took the previous week, possibly compounded by the onslaught of the cramp that literally threw me to the floor. He prescribed and gave me a course of antibiotics and the name of a cardiologist for future reference.

I was in and out of an emergency room in an a little over an hour! I shook myself on the tram ride back home. Where am I? Down under? Have I died and gone to heaven?

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