EDITORIAL: TREE CHANGE
Earlier this year I made a "tree change" after living most of my adult life in the inner city. I now live in a beautiful regional spot and do "the commute" to work. I have kookaburras, bowerbirds and cockatoos in the yard, possums in the attic and frill necked lizards under the house. I love it. This is my Bonnie Doon. Yup, just like Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle I regularly sigh with contentment and say those famous words: "So how's the serenity?". The family agrees and together we sprawl on the verandah, feeling smug.
When I first arrived to check out the area, I chatted to some very friendly locals sitting in the park, obviously "my people". I wanted to know what it was like to live there. To a person they loved it, shrugging off the idea of discrimination: "It's there, but not as bad as some places" was the verdict.
That was before at least four different groups of people warned me about the "junkies" in the "houso" flats in my street who would be stealing my stuff in quick order if I wasn't careful. And that was just the first day.
So it was that I have found the place amazingly crime free, but not discrimination free.
I have had to keep my doctor and chemist in the city. Local transport is poor, in both coverage and frequency. None of the doctors around here bulkbill, not even for Health Care Card holders or children. The only methadone dosing point in the district lies between two train stations and I don't own a car. The local chemist refused to stock the medication my husband needed to cure his hep C. And, we found out in the worst possible way, they don't do needle exchange.
Cue the weekend we had gear, but no fits. Yes, it can even happen to someone who has an NSP where they work. I had given my stock of "old" Terumos to a mate having trouble with the transition. To replace them I had, in a rush, grabbed a handful of syringes without needles but didn't realise til I opened them to make the shot up. I quickly got on the net to find a close pharmacy that provided fits, or an NSP that was open weekends. No luck. The hospital was not easy to reach without a car.
We discussed renovating a couple of fits from our fit bin. We knew we couldn't tell which fit had been used by whom. We bemoaned that we hadn't washed them straight after we used them, meaning there was blood residue dried hard. We realised we were out of bleach.
The big issue was that my husband had just cleared hep C after living with it more than 40 years but I hadn't been tested recently. I simply didn't feel we could take any risk that might see him reinfected. After years of him doing his best to protect me, I needed to protect him.
Had I been in the city, my options would have been wider. Yeah, I was made feel a little uncomfortable by reluctant staff at the needle exchange pharmacy in my old neighbourhood. Still, it was preferable to this wall I was hitting in the country.
Enter, Stage Right: the performance of a lifetime straight from "back in the day" before NSPs. I went to the local pharmacy to try and blag some 1ml completes, armed with an updated version of a story I used regularly thirty years ago. It involved a borrowed diabetes ID card . I tried a direct approach first - simply asking them for fits. However I found I needed to explain myself - and intravenous drug use was not going to win me any friends or fits. Ten minutes of dance-about and oozing charm moved me ever closer towards 5 sterile fits at (ka-ching!) $9. What an amazing amount of work I put in for something I should get with respect and for free. I should not have to deceive to get a health product I am legally entitled to, simply because the chemist disapproves of needle exchange.
Let's call it acting and give me an award... I would like to thank the War On Drugs for giving me a shady script to act out and the character of Scamming Junkie to work with. I would like to thank Stigma and Discrimination for helping me hone my skillset of lying, cheating and blagging.
I would also like to thank Harm Reduction for teaching me that sharing used fits is unacceptable and the Drug User Movement for encouraging me to stand up for my right to good health. Mostly, I would like to thank My Community. Only you understand how much I am underplaying the humiliation I felt at needing to play out this drama. And only you will re-frame the whole experience, wash away the shame and congratulate me on my strength and self-respect. Because of course I am not recommending civil disobedience as a prime M.O.; yes I would have preferred a straightforward approach; but I am glad we didn't reuse - and that's my bottom line.
People who live in the country should have the same rights to health care as their city mates. We should have the same access to services, to doctors and chemists, to pharmacotherapy, to sterile equipment, to be able to hold our head high in self-respect.
My health and the health of my family matters to me. And I will fight for the right to be as safe as I can be.
How's the serenity? Just fine, thanks.