Once I Had a Nosebleed


The title of this post is misleading.

I have had many, many nosebleeds in my life.

Some big.  Some small.  Some medium.  And a lot more than once.  I am extremely prone to nosebleeds and can spontaneously begin to bleed from the nose mid-conversation.  I am reliably informed that this is very disconcerting to watch. I have had nosebleeds while eating, drinking, talking, working, driving, walking, sleeping, watching TV, in the shower, at weddings – you get the picture.  If I was in a TV programme or movie I would be pretty sure that this unprovoked bleeding in a character would mean that he/she was either about to die (House/Six Feet Under) or was possessed by aliens (can’t think of an example but you get my drift).  Anyway, this is the story of one of my nosebleeds.

When I finished secondary school I went to work for the summer in Holland (really called the Netherlands but everybody calls it Holland).  I was employed – along with hundreds of other students – in a factory packing flower bulbs.  It was fine.  It was fun.  I was seventeen and it was a big, big adventure and then, one day I had a nose bleed at work.  It started the usual way by spontaneously pouring down my face.  I went to the bathroom and it continued to bleed, I applied pressure, threw water on my face, my neck, my wrists – did everything I knew how to do (as trained by my mother the nurse) and still it persisted.  It bled and bled and bled.

In the Ladies’ toilet in that flower-bulb factory there was a long, stainless steel sink along one wall with numerous taps overhead.  Running parallel with the sink was a big mirror. I stood there.  Miles and miles from home, my blood all over the stainless steel splash-back and mirror, blood all over my face and hands and clothes and a stream of Dutch women coming in to try to help me but all failing and resorting to hysterics.  I looked at myself in the mirror as they held my wrists under the cold water to try to stop me passing out (does that really work?).  My eyes wide with terror, my face white and blood streaked – I began to freak out.  Crying and screaming and buckling at the knees.  Somewhere in the all-encompassing hysteria someone called a doctor.  I had nothing to do with it.

First thing I knew about the doctor was when he appeared in the distorted cacophonous reality in the Ladies’ toilet. The noise bouncing off the tiles and steel and glass was like knives. Me crying.  Middle-aged supervisors and office staff high-pitched chattering like hysterical Dutch magpies.  Water everywhere.  Blood everywhere.  He appeared as if out of nowhere and just stood looking at me in the blood smeared mirror.  After a few seconds he spoke (in English) – “Stop.”

At first the sound made no sense.  He said it again.  “Stop.”

This was absurd!  Clearly he was missing the fact that I was dying.  It was obvious from the blood bath and even more obvious from the wailing women and worried men all around that my young life was ending in the bathroom of a flower-bulb factory.

And it was such a pity.  If I was going to die at seventeen I would have liked it to be for some heroic reason.  “She saved a child from a burning building/runaway train/stampede.”  Not she had a nosebleed to death.

The doctor was unmoved by the scene. He really wasn’t getting it.  I was dying and it wasn’t even romantic or worthwhile.  But this Dutch doctor didn’t seem to care.  I cried on.  The women wailed on.  He didn’t move.  Didn’t fall to his knees sobbing and wringing his hands at the tragedy that was unfolding in the factory bathroom.  Instead, he just stood there, calmly, as if nothing important or terrifying was happening and repeated himself quietly.  “Stop.  Stop it now.”

I was furious.  He was clearly a heartless bastard who didn’t care about me or anybody else…

I stopped crying.

The doctor was kind to me then – he packed my nose (which was horrible – I’m sure some of you have had to have it done) and ignored the fact that I was not only ungrateful but frostily furious with him.

He was such a fool!  How dare he speak to me like that!  Was that all he’d learned in medical school?

Maybe it was.

If it was all he learned I now see it differently to when I was 17.  Now I think he’d learned quite a lot.

He’d learned to take responsibility and put his neck on the line and keep to his own truth.

He’d learned that even though everything might be broken it was never going to be fixed while everything was flying around in the air.

He’d learned that – like blood – sometimes we need to staunch the flow of our emotions, even temporarily and even artificially – if we are to survive.  And he’d learned that it was more important to do what he knew to be right than to get pulled into the world of an hysterical 17 year old – and a roomful of almost as hysterical adults.

I never knew his name.  I was too busy being mad at him.  I hope he had – has – a nice life.

Baby Talk (or how I discovered my children weren’t me)


The final story in the trilogy of how I have accidentally learned some life lessons from my children involves my youngest son – Three-of-Three.  He was seven or eight at the time. In this story, the parent (me) and the kids were all snuggled up in bed having a ‘tell-me-stories-about-when-I-was-a-baby’ session.  I was obliging with funny stories about babies eating worms and being afraid of garden hoses and leaves and cacti and somehow it came up that when I was pregnant with Three-of-Three, due to a pregnancy complication (placenta praevia), I had to stay in bed for two full months.  The conversation that ensued went something like this –

Three-of-Three: “But did you stay in bed all the time?”

Me: “I did.”

Three-of-Three: “Every single day for two whole months?”

Me: “Every single minute of every single day.”

Three-of-Three: “But why did you do that?”

Me: “Because if I didn’t you wouldn’t have been able to grow in my tummy.”

Three-of-Three: “Would I have died?”

Me: “Probably.”

Three-of-Three sat up in bed, looked at me very seriously and didn’t say anything for a few seconds, he was obviously thinking about this new information.  Finally, once he’d digested it, with a very solemn expression on his small face he said – “Thanks, Mom.”

I was completely taken aback.  I had always seen that time when I was pregnant with him as being about me.  My experience.  My pregnancy.  My fear.  My worry.  My potential loss.  I saw my two months of being consigned to bed as something I did for myself.

He saw it differently.  He saw himself as a person in his own right, not an extension of me, or even a ‘product’ of me but a whole, distinct other person.

And for the first time, I really realised that that was true.  Not that I hadn’t given lip-service to that idea before – I had.  There was just something about his heart-felt expression of thanks that showed me not only that was he grateful but also that he really wasn’t me.

Which got me to thinking that our children, as well as being born of and influenced (for better or worse) by us are also complete human beings in their own right (also for better or worse).

Which means so are we.  We are products of certain people and certain times and certain environments but that’s not all we are – we are also uniquely ourselves.

Just like Three-of-Three.

Taming Hearts


“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”

“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean– ‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”

“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower… I think that she has tamed me…”

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The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Bargaining for a Living


English: A homeless man in Paris Français : Un...

Heidemarie Schwermer is a sixty-nine year old German woman who lives entirely without money.  Until 1996, Heidemarie lived her life pretty much along the same lines as her compatriots – she taught for almost 20 years and practiced as a psychotherapist for many years after that.  She raised two children and now also has three grandchildren.

In 1994, she moved to Dortmund where she determined to do something about the homelessness she saw all around her.  So she opened a swap shop – a place where people could trade skills or things for other skills or things.  The shop didn’t succeed in helping the homeless but it did attract many unemployed people and retirees and thereby became well known.

As time passed, Heidemarie grew tired of her life and quit her job.  She began to do all sorts of other jobs – whatever she could find – in exchange for low wages or other services.  By 1995, she was spending almost no money and still managing very well.  In 1996, after her children moved out – she embarked on an experiment that was to last a year – she sold her apartment and decided to live like a nomad – trading goods and services for goods and services.  She loved it so much that she’s still living that way, 15 years later.

Everything Heidemarie owns fits into a single-back suitcase and a rucksack.  She has an emergency fund of 200 euro and any other money she earns she gives to charities.

Interesting experiment which at the very least make us question the way we view – and use – money in our societies.

(Thanks to Tales from the Lou’s Blog for posting on this yesterday – see below for link)

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The Tale of the Iron Fish


Anemia is a serious problem throughout the developing world and it has serious consequences for the health of women and children in particular.   After he graduated from the University of Guelph, in Canada, and while awaiting the start of his post-graduate studies, Chris Charles took a summer job in Cambodia.

Much of his work concentrated on was trying to persuade villagers to increase the amount of iron in their diet. Charles and his team tried to persuade the village women to cook in iron pots or put chunks of iron into their pots while cooking as the iron transferred into the food can help combat anaemia.  But the women refused – the pots were too heavy and the chunks of iron were – well, probably just too ugly.

Undaunted, Chris Charles and his team kept working on the problem. They tried all sorts of iron shapes to no avail until they hit on the idea of making a shape that looked like a local fish that was considered lucky.  This time it worked.  The women liked the 3-4 inch lucky fish and began to cook with it in their pots.

As it happens, the iron fish really was lucky, at least insofar as it brought health and well being to the villagers.  Within a short time the use of the iron fish helped anaemia levels to plummet.

This is an example not only of innovation but also learning to – figuratively – speak the language of the people with whom they were working.  When the development workers offered the iron fish in a way that could be understood by the locals, they heard what was being said and participated in the process of helping themselves.

Deceptively simple.

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Photograph – University of Guelph grad student Chris Charles with the iron fish that  women in Cambodian villages now put in their cooking pots to help raise the levels of iron in their bodies.

Getting the Full Story


My intention is not to advertise The Guardian but this ad is just too good and its message applies to a lot more than just newspaper stories.  I think David Bohm would have liked it.*  Have a look – it’s short.

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*http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mst3fOl5vH0

The Whole Elephant


It was six men of Indostan 

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, -“Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ’tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,

And felt about the knee.

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” quoth he,

“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Then, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

MORAL.

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

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Poem – John Godfrey Saxe’s ( 1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend

Elephant illustration (C) Jason Hunt – naturalchild.org/jason