Starting Over

Once again I have left posting entirely too long. I had so many ideas for this blog when I last tried to come back to writing nine months ago, and haven’t followed through with any of them.

In the time since I last posted I: applied to an exchange program and was rejected; transferred universities; started therapy, stopped, then started again; travelled back and forth from Melbourne to Brisbane three times; got back together with my boyfriend; moved home and cut all my hair off. Not quite in that order.

Coming home is probably the best decision I’ve made in a while, along with starting to write again (nothing I’d show the outside world just yet but I’m getting there). I’d like to say I’m settling back in pretty well. Classes start next week at UQ and I’m actually excited about learning for the first time in a long time.

I’m planning a twice-a-week upload schedule for this blog, but forgive me if I don’t manage it when assessment starts up.

Until next time,

Helen

The Medical Profession and Social Literacy

Now, this post is late and it doesn’t fit exactly within my Health category as I’d originally intended it, but that’s still where I think it belongs, if you’ll bear with me for a little while.

I feel like maybe this post may a little bit of an over-share for some people, but so many women go through this that I feel the need to get this out for other people to hear about. I shan’t go into any explicit details or anything, but be cautious nonetheless, I suppose.

I’ve always had incredibly painful menstrual cramps. From the first period I had at age eleven or twelve, I knew I was in for a lifetime of pain. When I was fifteen, I was put on the pill. When that did little to help the pain I was told to use the pill in a way such that my cycle was ten weeks rather than four (that is, I only take the “blank” pills on one tray of three). When the pain was still too much each time I went through it, I was given anti-inflammatory pain pills which were so strong that I can only take one per day when I do take them, and started to use heat packs when the weather allowed for it.

The last three or so times I’ve taken them, these pain meds weren’t working.

At the age of fifteen I was checked for endometriosis, but due to my young age and the fact that I wasn’t sexually active, the radiologist I went to (with my mum) would only do an external examination, an ultrasound like the ones used to take a peek at foetuses/unborn babies. This isn’t a very effective way of checking, as you can’t really see too much from the outside. As there is no family history of endometriosis, and my mum claimed similarly painful cramps without having it, the idea was more or less abandoned and I was left to cope.

When I went to the doctor this time she decided I was ready for the internal exam, or pelvic ultrasound as it’s often referred to. As an eighteen year old who has only just gotten used to going to get check ups without her mum, I was (I think) understandably nervous about having some stranger stick a probe inside me, but I pressed forward, saw the necessity and made the appointment.

Melbourne is still relatively new to me as a city, and if it’s not in the city centre, chances are I haven’t been there and don’t know how to get there. The radiologist I went to couldn’t be gotten to by tram without three or four changes, and I didn’t like my chances of walking there in less than an hour. So I decided to take my bike.

Bad idea #1. I’d not been on my bike in over a year, and it was too much too soon. The migraine I hadn’t yet paid much thought to (my vision goes, but I don’t get a lot of pain) came into full force and upon getting off the bike my legs had forgotten how to walk. I was hot, sweaty and thirsty and I realised I was going to be late, and my bladder would probably not be sufficiently full for the initial ultrasound.

Having locked my bike to a post, I called the radiology to let them know I was running late. I suppose I must’ve sounded fairly distraught as I was stressed and still out of breath. I found a tram nearby that took me close enough and after a huge amount of stress I got there about fifteen to twenty minutes late. I walked in, red faced and sweaty, and the receptionist assured me that they’d managed to move some things around to fit me in still.

“Is this our girl who’s been crying and stressed out?” was the first thing the woman performing the exam said in my presence. No “hi” or “hello”. No “it’s alright”. Just accusing me of sobbing down the phone at the receptionist, something I categorically had not done.

I won’t go into specifics of the things she said to me during the examinations, because bit by bit they don’t sound so bad, and a lot of what was horrible about this experience was in tone of voice, inflection and emphasis. She did tell me off at least seven times for not having a full enough bladder, however, and made several incredibly condescending remarks about giving myself more time to get there next time.

There will be no next time. If I ever need to have a similar procedure done again, I will be taking it elsewhere. That she assumed she knew my circumstances was incredibly aggravating for me. “Leave yourself a bit more time next time”? Screw you, lady. I left an hour before my appointment to get here, and that it took me longer than I thought was beyond my control.

I spent who knows how long lying on that bench, naked from the waist down but covered in hospital gowns in possibly the most vulnerable position a woman could be in, while she sporadically told me off and otherwise made me feel like a piece of meat.

Very rarely do I allow strangers to make me cry, but this woman managed. It was no incident in particular, just the experience as a whole (the icing on the cake was when I was told to hand over about $210 for it). I made it outside and called my mum before I properly broke down, and my mother reassured my belief that she is the most amazing woman on the planet by knowing exactly what to say and being appropriately outraged at how I’d been treated.

I know from talking to a few other women around me and my mum that this is not an uncommon occurrence. Women, particularly young and solo women, are treated this way all the time by medical professionals. Mum postulates that this is because they can get away with it. There’s no doubt that the woman who examined me was displaying bullying behaviour, and I truly believe that had I had my mum or a sister (if I had one) with me, or been a decade or two older, I would’ve been treated differently.

I don’t know what it is that makes medical professionals occasionally forget that they’re dealing with real, actual people and not just slabs of meat. I don’t know why it is that some doctors feel the need to treat their patients like they’re somehow worthless. The fact is, it happens, and it’s not okay.

Hopefully this next week will be a little less insane and I’ll get more writing done. I’ll be heading to the pool on Wednesday for the first time (I’m much too saddlesore for any more bike rides for a few days) and after my birthday on Monday sees two pieces of assessment finished and handed in I think I’ll feel a lot freer.

Until next time,

Venetian Love

As I stated in my last post, Venice easily and quickly earned it’s place at the top of my “favourite cities” list. I loved it there, and I will definitely be returning as soon as I can afford it again, for as lengthy a stay as I can get away with.

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Me in Venice!!

Now, our stay in Venice was not without its stresses. I stress out far too easily (The phrase “take a chill pill” and all its derivatives make me want to wallop whomever delivered it. Over the head. With something heavy. And then scream for a bit…) and the rather unsuccessful beginning to this stay was not conducive to a stress-free environment. Still, I can now (in hindsight) chalk it up to experience and admit that maybe I overreacted at the time.

The kind couple handing over their half-used ticket was a nice beginning, I’ll admit, but came after fifteen or so minutes standing in the wrong line before giving up, realising how stupid we were because the line we were meant to be in was so painfully obvious that only a total fool could have missed it. It then took us a while to realise what this couple was actually giving us, and then a few more after that to switch out of the tickets line and into the line for actually getting on the boat…

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Off the back of the water bus

The boat trip itself was fine. We sat out the back and I didn’t get sick (huzzah!). We got off at the stop as instructed on the directions provided by the hostel and then… lost. Not so lost that we had no idea whatsoever where we were, but we didn’t have a map and the directions were in garbled English mentioning street names that had no signs and “go left”s when they meant “straight on”. Frustrating and lead to several wrong turns and a few aggravated groans. I’m so lucky my boyfriend puts up with that from me for the most part (although he gives as good as he gets) because I was incredibly close to snapping by the time we finally found the place. I guess my injured knee and overall level of un-fitness (is that even a word? Well, I guess it is now…) didn’t help this. All the up-ing and down-ing over bridges wasn’t exactly helping…

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Gondolas lined up on the banks of the canal

And then we finally got there. It wasn’t a very obvious hostel, I’ll admit. And the inside wasn’t much like a hostel either. Hardly even a hotel, more a homestay. We got there, gave our names, and the receptionist/owner’s face fell. “Oh dear, guys, there’s been a mistake.” Never good words to hear. “The room has been booked for tomorrow, you’re early.” My boyfriend maintains that this is all my fault. I maintain that as he paid with his card, it was his responsibility to check the details and therefore not all blame can be put on me, but that’s beside the point. My heart dropped completely. We had two hostels in two different cities booked for the next night, but none for that night.

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Just outside the hostel on the night we got there

I guess luck was on our side for some reason or other, because the outcome of this potential disaster was that we stayed an extra night in Venice (our room was free, huzzah!) and got free towels from the guy at the desk because he felt so bad for us (not exactly a huge deal, but a nice gesture). Overall, we should have planned two nights from the beginning. It wouldn’t have been enough time (and we still didn’t get to see Michaelangelo’s David…) and we’d have rushed through everything.

The city is beautiful. The people are lovely. In St Mark’s square there were two bands alternating playing sets, and a few couples got up from there over-priced meals to dance, spurring much applause from onlookers who couldn’t afford to eat at such a location. The next morning we went to Murano, the glass-making island, and saw a large amount of truly beautiful hand-blown glass… in amongst a lot of cheap crap imported from China. Still, the stuff was very beautiful. I spent nearly two hours browsing mask shops that afternoon, we had “the best ice-cream in Venice” (as recommended by the hostel) and some of the best take-away pizza ever as well.

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Murano glass, Water feature

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Murano glass, Fire feature

Our second morning we got up early to watch the sunrise in St Mark’s square. The sunrise itself wasn’t anything special (it clouded over during the night and was drizzling slightly) but simply seeing the square nearly empty made up for that. After some careful persuasion (and a bit of early xmas cash wired through paypal) from my aunt, I took the plunge and purchased my very own Venetian mask. I swear, it’s probably the most beautiful thing I own. I definitely need to make a gown or something to match, even if I’ll never have anywhere to wear it. The mask itself is currently wrapped up in Cambridge, ready to be my carry-on luggage on the way home. I’m so pleased I did it, though, and didn’t talk myself out of it. Anyone else have that problem? Sometimes I think I can be too frugal.

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St Mark’s Square at dawn

The Rialto bridge is magnificent. I was thoroughly impressed by the sheer number of people on or around it (although not quite as packed as the Trevi Fountain or Spanish Steps in Rome, still an impressive number of people, even though it’s not quite evident in the photo below). Michaelangelo’s David will have to wait until next time as we simply didn’t make it. We had to get back to the hostel to check out and get back to the train station to get to Milan. At the station, I was compelled to pass on our half-used water bus ticket, as had been done for us. We found a couple of girls on the station steps, looking a little lost to give it to (we got one ticket for two people). I have no idea if they used it, but they were the only ones who fit the bill–that is, people who looked like they needed it. Everyone in line was older and fairly obviously wealthy. We wanted this gift to go to someone who could appreciate it like we did. I hope they continued the cycle. Ever felt the need to pay it forward? It’s a great feeling, I must admit.

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The Rialto Bridge

Venice is still a highlight, even now a month or so on (I know, I’m so slack) having visited Switzerland, Paris, the UK, North Germany and now Amsterdam (more on those later) with still further to go, and I will definitely be going back, and recommending it to anyone who will sit still long enough.

A bit exhausted, but still excited,

Until next time,

Helen

When Things Go Wrong, and when they don’t

I’ve begun to lose track of how long I’ve been away. It’s sad, I wanted to document this trip so much and it just hasn’t happened. On the other hand, I am spending my time enjoying my traves rather than constantly coming up with blog posts in my head- I will get better with this in time, and writing this blog is a learning experience, after all.

A brightly lit mask shop in Venice

As the name of my blog would suggest, I’m a worrier. So far on this trip I have worried myself to the point of distraction more times than I could count. Luckily, very little has gone properly wrong. By “properly” wrong, I mean so-wrong-there’s-no-way-out-we’re-stuck-with-no-money-and-no-food-and-nowhere-to-sleep kind of wrong. When you’re booking trains and accommodation on the fly with very little concrete planning, this is a risk, however with the help of HostelBookers.com (seriously. I love this website. This tripe wouldn’t have gone nearly so smooth without them) we have managed to avoid sleeping in parks or anything like that.

The first thing that went wrong I wrote about in my last post. The second occurred when we arrived in Venice. I had been looking forward to Venice more than perhaps anything else we had planned. With good reason. The first thing we did when we got to Venice was go line up for tickets for the waterbus. A long line that was virtually un-moving, you wait to pay a whopping €7 for one hour on the waterbusses. We got lucky. An incredibly kind and generous couple spotted us in line with our massive packs, and came up to us. In a move shocking enough to render both myself and my boyfriend speechless beyond a stunned “Thank you. Thank you so, so much,” they handed over their two-person ticket, which still had a half-hour left on it. We made our way to the hostel, the first time we’d booked a private room since we planned to get up for sunrise in St Mark’s Square.

View out the back of the waterbus

Except we’d booked the hostel for the wrong date. The day after we got there. We were lucky again, our room was free! It cost us an extra €44 each, but in the end it was completely worth it. Venice is certainly a highlight of the trip, one of my favourite experiences and one I will definitely live again over the years. We got an extra day in a city that may in the coming years end up completely underwater. I’m so glad we didn’t miss it. I will post again about Venice with more detail. I’d like now to get back on topic: things that went wrong.

We discovered the first night in Venice that we had booked Milan for the same night. The hostel we had booked was full for the next night, so we lost our deposit and had to look for somewhere else. This in itself was more of an irritation than a real problem, but worth mentioning, I feel, because on a budget as tight as mine this is the sort of thing I shouldn’t really be able to afford to do.

Venetian Gondolas, all lined up in a row.

Our stay in Milan was… disappointing. There wasn’t anything special about the city, really. We had only a Sunday there, so nothing was open. We could barely get close to the  cathedral and didn’t even think about going inside. My Dad had requested Cinelli merchandise, but all the shops were shut (and most Cinelli dealers in Milan only sell bicycles, not caps or T-shirts like he wanted…). We found a market to wander around and ended up having to buy an umbrella when the heavens opened and we narrowly avoided being soaked to the bones.

We made our way to the train station to try and get to Zurich only to discover that every train that day was full, unless we wanted to purchase full-price First-Class tickets. No, thank you. Half an hour of drama later, we had booked ourselves on a train the next morning, and with the help of HostelBookers, managed to find a room about 600m from the station. Not too bad, in the end, but hellishly stressful at the time. We considered going to San Siro to have a look, but in the end it was rainy, miserable, we were both exhausted and given the time of day we decided it mightn’t be the best idea anyway, given how dodgy the area is reported to be.

This is what you get when you book a “double room with private bathroom” in Milan. That’s three singles pushed together with a shower in the corner.

We got to Zurich well enough, where we stayed with my boyfriend’s aunt and her family. They have two incredibly sweet girls and the stay was an incredible break from taking care of ourselves so completely for the first time (keep in mind we are both teenagers living with our parents… my major homesick moment happened in Greece when I realised how long it had been since I’d seen my Mum—four weeks—and how long it would be until I’d see her again—five weeks—and broke down completely). We are now staying outside of Lausanne with one of my Dad’s cousins (more Greek rellies!) and his wife. We are going to Geneva with him tomorrow morning, and on Monday we will get a train to Paris. Six nights there before we head to London, which I am really looking forward to.

Some Swiss Alps from the family’s holiday home up in Lenzerheide

I’m a bit apprehensive about going to Paris. The last time I was there I was five, my mum was still pregnant with my little brother and we were camping with another family. I learned to swim on that trip. This time I am staying in a shared room and it will matter a little more that neither my boyfriend nor myself speak any French beyond bonjour, sil’vous plait and merci. Could be interesting. Switzerland so far has been easy since we both speak German (and most people speak English anyway) but I get the impression it will not be so easy with the French to simply look a bit lost and act as polite as possible while pointing at what we want and saying “une -blank-, sil’vous plait?” I doubt that will go down so well, especially since we likely won’t have any idea what we’re asking for… luckily the hostel we’re staying at includes breakfast.

Here’s hoping the last bit of this leg goes well, you should hear from me again soon with details from Venice and other tidbits I’ve learned while travelling.

Until next time,