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Winter has apparently been kicked out of office here in Australia and Spring, known as Miss Congeniality in the seasonal fashion parade, has taken its place.  Not that I would have noticed.  I’ve been too busy fending off a cold to notice much of anything.  I thought my little naps and efforts to conserve energy were actually working, too, until last night. Then, I found out that they have been entirely futile.

Toward the end of the evening, my opponent rose to its full height and let me have it.  My head swelled enormously, turning into an elephant head, with a long trunk full of mucous.  My throat began to ache, as if it had been used by our cat as a scratching post.  I had a series of sneezing fits, followed by the inevitable drip from one nostril to the other as I attempted to find some comfort tossing and turning in bed.

Now it is entirely possible that I have developed an allergic reaction to pollen or the cat or something that has not previously triggered such a reaction.  This morning I took an over-the-counter allergy medication to test this theory.   If it works, we may have to shave the cat.  Or move.  Or do something drastic.

On the other hand, there is a strong possibility that this is entirely psychosomatic.  I have started to assemble some numbers for our Australian tax filing.   It is not due until the end of October, but we are are going to be busy then, and it never hurts to get a head start. To say I have an aversion to taxes is a colossal understatement, a bit like saying the Beatles were just a band.  Or Bush is… , well, you get the idea.

There are a few quirks associated with doing Australian tax that I may not have mentioned in a previous posts.  For one thing, the tax year runs from July 1 to June 30, which does not help when one has to file in two other jurisdictions that have not adopted the same calendar.  And filing in Oz seems to be based on the honor system, which may be a legacy from British boarding schools or something.

Then, there is the complicated issue of medical expenses.  For reasons that appear to have more to do with ideology than sense, this country has chosen to follow America down the costly path of privatized health care.  In terms of tax, it means you are penalized if you don’t take out private medical insurance and subsidized if you do.  Depending on your income.

I have been doing other things besides suffering.  I took the tram down to the Writer’s Festival on the last day of the event.  I tuned in to three discussions on very diverse subjects, from Chinese factory work to the hard work of writing a cracking good mystery.  An Australian writer by the name of Don Watson delivered some very incisive homilies on my homeland reminiscent of Will Rogers, a humorist in the thirties.  Watson was sufficiently steeped in American history to mention the name.  I bought his book and read the first chapter last night.  It was about his visit to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.  Not funny at all.

If my allergic reaction (or my cold) is, indeed, psychosomatic, then my best medical strategy may be to discontinue all medications, shelve the taxes, read a very funny book and hire a good accountant. I’ll keep you posted. By now, you are no doubt wondering why your faithful blogger has been going on at length about his miseries when he could have been passing on some news that you have been dying to hear– the results of Australia’s premier cross-country ski race, the Kangaroo Hoppet.  Considering recent events in American politics, it may not have been featured on your local T.V. station.

On August 31, in Falls Creek, Victoria, 1200 competitors from fifteen countries took on the grueling 42 km challenge.  This year a young Australian, Ben Sim, took the men’s title.  He is one of Australia’s best hopes in the winter Olympics in Vancouver.  Evelyn Dong, a young American, beat the field of women.  I’m sure they were all healthy as all get out. Happy, too.  But have they done their taxes?

by Alan Lam

by Alan Lam

We finally got our Medicare cards, so I went to see my doctor yesterday. He’s not really my doctor, of course. He works for the University of Melbourne health service, sees a lot of patients, a cross section of students, professors and dependents. I told him I was giving him an opportunity to brush up on his geriatric skills. He gave me an odd look and informed me I hadn’t quite entered that category, as far as he was concerned. After all, I had come to him to get permission to join a gym.

To use the facilities at the Windy Hill Fitness Centre you must first obtain a medical clearance if you are over the age of 45. It is age discrimination, but I can understand their concern. I did have my one and only heart attack in a gym. After reassuring himself that I was straining my heart more on my bike than I would inside the walls of the gym, my doctor produced the required piece of paper.

And then we talked. That is the extraordinary thing about Australian physicians. They seem to have time for patients. I wanted to know about the prostate gland. About tests and potential problems, about biopsies and drugs and tests etc. And he explained things, admitting that the state of the knowledge was not very good and that the approaches in the US differ from those in Australia and Great Britain. That the design of the prostate gland itself was not very good. Now, that is an odd notion.

We are not meant to live this long, he said. It is perfectly fine for creatures who live just long enough to reproduce, but we have moved well beyond that. The average Australian male lives to be seventy-six or seventy-seven. Hold on, said I. Is that all? When you are sixty-two years old it isn’t hard to do the calculation.

I had raised the ticklish issue of mortality. I asked him at one point if he had a second major in philosophy. He chuckled. Medicine is an intellectual discipline, he said. Glancing at me as if he expected me to challenge his assertion. At least it has been, historically. Money may be changing that. I reflected on that. May be? I wonder what Michael Moore would have to say about that.

Besides bringing on a sudden confrontation with mortality, the visit reminded me of a bizarre story we heard in France. A Canadian colleague of my wife (who was teaching in Paris) had been offered an opportunity to teach a course of comparative law in California. Immigration required him to produce his academic qualifications at the port of entry, which was Montreal.Arc de Triomphe

“You’ve got a PhD,” said the American immigration officer. “Yes,” said our friend. “Two, actually.” “What?” “I have two PhD’s.” “That stands for Doctor of Philosophy, doesn’t it?” “Yes,” said our friend, humoring the immigration officer. It is always a good idea to humor immigration officers.

“So, what gives you the right to teach law?” My wife’s colleague stared at the American, somewhat dumbfounded. “I have a doctorate in law,” he said. “Doesn’t say so here,” said Mr. Immigration. ” Says you have a doctor of philosophy.”

Fortunately, our friend was able to have someone at McGill University fax a letter to the immigration officer stating that he did, actually, have the credentials to teach law. They faxed his BA to the immigration office.  It was enough to indicate that he had studied law.   True story, so help me.

Now, if only my doctor would take that back, about the life span, I mean.

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