It was 2002, the front of the Royal Brisbane Hospital. I had just finished a 12 month treatment programme for Hepatitis C. Every month I would visit the RBH, get checked by the medical pit stop crew, and then leave with a little foam esky full of needles to jab myself with.
I had found out I was Hep C positive as a byproduct of seeing a GP about my depression. He’d run the usual tests you run when a suicidally depressed mid 30s man appears. A few tests later and I was being told all about this thing called Hep C and how my diet was about to change. For the first time in over a decade I was going to stop drinking for longer than it took to recover from a hangover.
So every month to the hospital. Every month the cheerfully efficient nurses would query, measure and note. Every month the flu-symptoms that were a byproduct of the medication would make me creak and groan.
For the final visit I had done something that was – by my standards – outrageously sentimental. I’d bought them some flowers. I was usually so locked in my head that emotional gestures like that never got beyond an idle thought.
They’d liked the flowers. They’d also said I was clear of the virus. And here I was, out of the shadow of that awful bloody disease, blinking in the sunlight as the traffic roared like the sea on Gympie Road.
And there was a strange sensation in me. Me who at the time hardly felt anything at all. In hindsight, I think it was gratitude to the nurses. Not so much for the medicine but for the caring behind it, for the fact that they thought my life was worth saving.
Imagine a bath tub with a dripping tap, and a miserable person in it, wishing the bath tub was full. He doesn’t notice the drip drip drip of the tap, doesn’t notice the bath tub filling, not until it’s up to his chin. Then he notices it.
The nurses’ kindness was the dripping tap. I was the miserable person who only realised the kindness around him when it had got up to my chin. Then it became obvious. I felt it, and something shifted inside me. I wasn’t used to this, it took some getting used to.
I took a deep breath and said to myself “I’m 35. I’ve been thinking about suicide my whole life and I’ve never got around to it and I probably never will.” Which was all true, I nodded. “Might as well find something worth doing with this life, I suppose.”
And so I started looking.