On the eve of returning to the airwaves after his recovery from a head injury, ABC Radio Melbourne breakfast presenter Red Symons pens a letter to his listeners.
On July 5, I was shopping in the city with a 12-year-old friend.
We’d set out to buy strawberries and kale and a plush blanket, but that’s about all I can tell you.
My friend says that I paused, pressed my palm against a wall, closed my eyes and fell to the ground.
At first my friend interpreted this as a vaudevillian prank, but when I failed to open my eyes she asked a passer-by to call an ambulance.
The next thing I remember is a few days later and I’m in a hospital bed (with a strange plush blanket) surrounded by my family and friends.
They looked desperate and bleary-eyed.
This didn’t worry me — having slept through the doctors’ discussions of worst-case scenarios, my belief in my immortality had persisted unchallenged.
In the following weeks of recovery I have given some thought to my delusions of invulnerability — it wasn’t until I was well that I realised I’d been sick.
The neuropsychologist assessed me as largely unimpaired as regards intelligence and cognition, but noted some areas where I was — horror — average.
A friend with a psychoanalytic bent asked what I was thinking in the moments, the hours, the days before I fell.
I laughed out loud at the notion that concussing myself might be considered a lateral solution to some subconscious dilemma.
I apologised for laughing and volunteered that I was perfectly happy and filled with vigour when I fell.
The fundamental question for the doctors remained — “Why did he faint?”
I have wryly observed that there is no better place in the world than Melbourne, Victoria, Australia to become unwell.
As a matter of standard procedure, and in the public hospital system, I received the attention of four professors, all expert in their specialties.
And with their collective centuries of experience they were all in agreement:
“We’re not sure.”
I was initially fatigued and, a week later, remained fatigued.
I wondered how much of this lack of volition could be blamed on the hospital.
It’s a curious experience to sleep for 10 hours a day, to lie on a single bed watching television for another six or eight, whilst being served meals and cups of tea.
Real life is full of minor busyness that defends against this sort of torpor.
As a man who has swum every day for more than a year, lying about in a particular kind of luxury was debilitating.
The lack of purpose left me agitated.
Surprisingly, certain sections of the hospital specialise in minimising stimulus. All is quiet and uneventful.
I took day leave to a local shopping mall to pay a bill and was overwhelmed with the demand for attention: Look at me! Consume me! Buy me!
We all constantly filter and discard these incessant demands, but after a period of institutionalisation each stimulus had to be noted and discarded in turn.
Doing well in the world
My final hospital room looked out over the back of a strip of shops.
I could see distant trains and the tops of trams but almost no sign of human life, except for the occasional smoker hovering on a balcony. The outside of the window, three floors up, had not been cleaned for some years.
I slept when the sun went down and woke before dawn, the way people slept for the millennia before electric lights.
I devoted my time to rehabilitative endeavours — physiotherapy, neuropsychology, occupational therapy — and prepared myself for a return to the world. I started going home for the weekends but was disinclined to go out.
Back in the hospital, each night at dusk two birds, Indian mynas I think, flew up to my level and shuffled, one then the other, into a corner shielded by pipes.
They had made their nest there, a nest they returned to after a day of adventure. They seemed to be doing well in the world.
Finally, the doctors were done with me. I was rehabilitated.
I had fallen, for no particular reason, lost a week or two, hunkered down for a few more. And now I could fly home.
And tomorrow I’ll be back at work.