Annie’s throat had been sore for weeks and it was getting worse. There were several doctors in town so when she dropped off the rent she asked Jack which one he recommended.
“My old friend John Thorne is as good as they get,” he replied. “We’re on the hospital board together. He’s a busy man but I’ll put in a good word for you. His treatments are at the cutting edge of medicine.”
Two days later Annie met the tall, somewhat fearsome doctor who examined her throat and made her say “Aaah!”
He shook his head and looked at her directly. “That is a very bad Strep Throat. A few years ago you may have had this condition for months. In fact you may not have fully recovered or had complications. There is now a drug called penicillin which will clear up your throat infection within twenty four hours. We can thank the great Australian Howard Florey for that.”
Annie stared at the long needle with fear but lay on her stomach, eyes closed, while the injection took place.
Once more seated opposite the doctor she waited pensively while he wrote something on a paper form.
“Now you are here I will gather some more information. I see you are married but no children. Any miscarriages?”
Annie was somewhat taken aback by the doctor’s bluntness but answered quietly. “No, I’ve never been pregnant.”
“Let’s see. You are thirty-two years of age and have been married for fourteen years. I take it you have chosen not to have children?”
Annie couldn’t believe what she was hearing but decided she had no choice but to answer. “I’ve … I mean we’ve never thought about it. It just hasn’t happened.”
“Well now, I would like you to come for an examination in about two week’s time, when you are better. Just to make sure there are no underlying conditions.”
“I can’t afford another doctor’s visit,” Annie said with regret. She thought of the discussion with Hayden over the advisability of this visit. It was only because she had been so sick and all the old remedies had not helped that they both agreed it was the only solution.
Doctor Thorne leapt out of his seat with a sudden movement. “Good God, woman, this is not about money. I’m genuinely interested in your case. I want to make you part of my research. Now go and make an appointment at the desk and I’ll see you in a fortnight.”
The penicillin did its work and Annie was feeling her old self within days. She decided not to mention her next doctor’s visit to Hayden as pregnancy was a subject they avoided discussing. In fact they never talked about their sex life. It was something that happened quickly beneath the blankets, in the dark.
Dr Thorne warned of what was to come and asked her to try and relax. Lying under a sheet she gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. Eventually the procedure was over and she was left to dress herself before seeing the doctor again.
“You are a very healthy, very fit young woman. There is absolutely no reason I can see that you have not become pregnant. Of course, there could be something my examination didn’t find but I think the next step is to test your husband’s sperm.”
“Hayden would never come in to see you about that!” Annie was wide eyed at the idea.
“He doesn’t need to. Here is a sterile glass jar. All you need to do is bring in a fresh sample for testing. Try to bring it in on the same day and keep it wrapped up so it doesn’t get cold.”
Annie was left with the daunting task of obtaining the sample. She decided she would have to tell Hayden everything but surprisingly he didn’t object. He even said it might be nice to have a baby which left her in a state of confusion.
“So there it is,” Dr Thorne looked at Annie sadly. “The reason you have not become pregnant in fourteen years is your husband has a very low sperm count.”
“Can you do anything about it?” Annie asked. “Maybe a tonic to improve his…” She still couldn’t say it.
“One possibility is sperm donation. It has been happening for hundreds of years. The old turkey baster…”
Annie looked puzzled.
“Of course, nowadays a syringe is used. The donor provides fresh sperm which is injected at the precise time of the month for conception to take place. Sometimes it works but it often takes many attempts which you can see is difficult for the donor who has to be in the general area at the time.”
“The whole thing is kept very secret. The child never knows that its father is not the one who raises it. The only people who know are the parents. Often not even the donor is told who the mother is.”
Annie shook her head. “My husband would never agree to it. It looks as though it was not meant to be. Thank you doctor, for your help. Could I ask that you not tell Hayden about his results. I think he would be devastated.”
When Hayden asked what the doctor said she simply replied, “You are fine. There’s no reason we can’t have children. I just need to get my anxiety levels down. That’s all.”
It was several weeks before Annie had time to return to the diary. Hayden was in Sydney again with strict instruction not to visit Thommo’s and squander their precious money. She left the Customs House early to begin her afternoon of reading. The faded script was hard to see by the dim light of an electric bulb so she planned to use the winter sunshine and a pot of tea to help her decipher it. Stretching out in a comfortable chair, the sun streaming in through the kitchen window, she turned to the page where she had left off.
I reached my favourite spot in the shade of the Greek Church verandah and gingerly stretched out on the patchy grass. It was my habit to come here every day to escape the sweltering heat. My arm still hurt but I had hopes of exploring the island when I felt a bit better. In the meantime I watched the local children playing in the dust, saw the women in their local costumes coming to draw water from the well and chatted to the passing soldiers from numerous allied countries.
The hospital was not a place you would want to spent time if you could help it. Forty men, jammed into a marquee like herrings in a tin, lay on lousy mattresses and ate food swarming with flies from the nearby latrines.
Fed up with days of inactivity I decided to explore the nearby hills. Climbing with a couple of mates I found neglected orchards, admired views of the sea and feasted on grapes in an overrun vineyard. That night I didn’t feel too good and for the next week hovered near the dreaded latrines until my stomach settled down to normal. Another week of feeling weak and with my arm still painful, I couldn’t have been more delighted than when I received the call to report to the ship ‘Marathon’. We steamed to Alexandria where we were given first class train tickets to Cairo.
The Palace Heliopolis in Cairo, all glittering marble and brass, could make a man think he had died and gone to heaven. After registration I was shown to the bathroom where the steaming hot water was waiting to wash months of accumulated dirt from my body.
Back in my room I met Jim who was to share with me.
“Will you look at this!” Jim pointed to a box, already opened on the bed, its contents spilling out onto the sheet.
“Chocolate and biscuits. Lots of ciggies. Toothpaste and a toothbrush. It’s like bloody Christmas!”
“What else is there?” I asked.
“Writing paper, envelopes, pencils. No excuse not to write to my girl now. Oh. and smell that soap. Even a handkerchief to blow me nose on.” Jim unwrapped the soap and disappeared into the bathroom for his bath.
I slowly unwrapped my box. The notepaper reminded me of Sheila. I wrote to her as often as I could but her replies were short and infrequent. Maybe she had met someone else? I wandered over to the doors which opened onto a small balcony. Two cane chairs were placed invitingly facing out towards the garden. As I sat and pondered I wondered what lay ahead. This paradise could not last forever but while I was here I would live for the moment and enjoy it while I could.
Tea was waiting downstairs. Boiled eggs with bread and butter followed by jam and apples. A mug of ale appeared at 7 o’clock and a cup of cocoa at 8.
A friendly nurse came to check on my wound and dressed it carefully.
“We’ll have you fixed up in no time,” she smiled brightly.
Maybe it was the surroundings, maybe because they were Australian, but the nurses here were lively and full of fun. I enjoyed their company and the feeling was mutual, I think.
I soon moved to Luna Park Hospital where my only complaint was the bed bugs. Finally I was discharged and returned to my unit. Declared unfit for duty I scored an office job in Cairo as a clerk for the army. With France still on the horizon I began French lessons but rumour had it that we would soon be in the desert “Scrapping Arabs”.
My first camp in the desert was at Serapeum on the edge of the Suez Canal. An infantry camp with thousands of Australians was nearby but I was sent with nine others to the railhead in Arabia to sort out a depot which was in chaos. I was officer in Charge of ‘Bread and Biscuits’, complete with an Arab servant and we got things sorted out pretty soon. Overseeing the loading of 2000 camels in the mornings, swimming the horses in the Suez Canal, wearing goggles in the sandstorms and chasing my runaway tent in the wind was all part of the job and kept me from worrying too much about the future.
A young chap by the name of Tyrel Palmer called by to have a chat. We both smoked in the shade of the store pile and let our thoughts wander back home to Australia.
“Have you heard about the Soldier Settlers Scheme?” Tyrel said. “We both qualify because we’ve served overseas. All we’ve got to do is make it safely back home.”
“I’ve heard of it,” I considered my cigarette, decided it was done and searched for some tobacco and paper. “Don’t know where you might end up. They might give you some scrub that’s good for nothing.”
“Well I read that they’re developing land near Mildura. They already grow grapes there using water from the Murray but this section will have a new pumping station and irrigation to every block.”
“The thing is, what do you do with grapes? I suppose you can eat them or make wine.”
“You dry them. Then you can put them in plum puddings. Apparently there’s a big demand because they used to come from Turkey and Greece.”
I sat there with Tyrel, imagining myself sitting on the verandah of my own house, overlooking the verdant grapevines fed by the mighty Murray River, far from bombs and destruction. I liked what I saw and decided that if I survived this war I would go to this place and live there for the rest of my days.Jack Hamilton
Annie looked up. She could hear the crunch of footsteps on the gravel path. Then the sound of knocking had her wondering who would be visiting her at this time of day. She regretfully put down the diary and went to see who it was. There on the front verandah was Jack Hamilton.