It’s always such a treat watching a friend from the US realize the flock of pigeons overhead aren’t pigeons at all but wild Cockatoos, Lorikeets  or Spotted Turtle Doves. Mel (Mel Green of Henkimaa) was graced with snow white Cockatoos flying between gum trees in the sunshine of a beautiful summer day here in Queensland, and I got to be there to watch as she discovered some of Australia’s most valued treasures.

We met for the first time, face to face over a steaming cuppa and muffins at the Roma St. Station in Brisbane. And I have to say, it was just like running into a old friend, it was that comfortable straight away. We talked and talked and talked before climbing into a cab to go here – Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

[Click most images to enlarge]

OzMel’s first frangipani tree:

Mel took an immediate interest in our trees – she said Alaska trees don’t have quite the same variety of foliage. These are the beautiful, tall gum trees (Eucalypts) which have (for centuries) been home to the furry little marsupial known as the Koala.

Pretending these branches were antlers would be the closest we’d get to seeing a moose downunder… I think these particular gums are called Paper Bark.

The Brisbane River sports brown water not because of pollution but because there’s no sand in the riverbeds or banks. Just a lot of fluffy red soil that doesn’t settle the way sand does…

Our first stop was to visit the koalas. This litte gal’s name is Scarlet. Just before this picture was taken, Scarlet was being held by another lady who was very nervous. Scarlet was so unsettled she actually cried and pulled away from the woman, refusing to be held. The ranger explained that often a perfume will put the koalas off – but Mel and I decided, after several minutes of watching the lady’s husband insist she pose for the photo, that Scarlet’s reluctance had nothing to do with an offensive perfume. Bullies may fool people, but never the animals.

After several more vain attempts, the ranger suggested the nervous lady take a break and offered Scarlet to Mel – and the two hit it off – easy peasy…

We took many, many koala photos between our two cameras (what did we ever do before digital?) and stopped for an ice cream in the afternoon heat. The walkways in Queensland are riddled with lizards sunning themselves on the asphalt, especially following days of rain. This little bearded lizard first skittled right on up to Mel and looked to be taking in the image of an Alaskan tourist with the same relish the Alaskan tourist viewed the Australian attraction when (unnoticed by me or Mel) a tiny bit of chocolate shell fell off my ice cream, landing between my feet. The lizard cocked his head, turned and made a short dash towards me stopping a few feet from my shoes.


Thinking he was responding to my voice, I continued chatting softly, teasing all within earshot that I was actually a lizard whisperer by trade and knew exactly what I was doing. I spread my arms and muttered ohm. The bearded reptile inched towards me again. More faked whispering (I was really into it by then, encouraged by Mel giggling in the background) and he inched forward yet again – then he suddenly lunged for the chocolate. Score! Mel and I both laughed when we realized that was what he was after all along  - then laughed again when he looked up as if to say ‘more?’ So I accidentally dropped a second bit, watched him lap it up and then moved on, avoiding  any possible ranger’s glare..

Here are just a couple of the koala photos taken before and after our encounter with the chocoholic lizard.

Here’s Mel trying to be tall. *snicker* She’s spotted a Cassowary on the other side of a chain linked fence and is so determined to get the shot, she’s climbed on top of a picnic bench. No sooner was she perched in this position when a Bush Turkey swooped down from a tree. Neither one can actually see each other because of the wooden canopy, but they look like they can, which is what amused me enough to stage erm, take the photos.

Mel! Quick! Jump down and look up! Trust me!

Excellent…

Then it was off to the roos.

I was feeling a little huffed, so sat down in a shadey gazebo while Mel went off in search of our Australian Icon.  Another Bush Turkey paid me a visit, affording the opportunity to get a couple of close-up shots. These are not the plump Toms bred in the states for Thanksgiving dinners. They’re more like oversized pigeons. In fact, they are such scavengers, the rangers have no problem letting tourists feed them right from their picnic baskets or coat pockets.

I love their faces.  They all share the same, perpetually surprised expression as if to say Huh? Sarah wrote a book? I didn’t even know she could read!

Mel was on the other side of a small field watching a mum grooming the Joey (baby Roo) in her pouch and some Boomers (male Roos) showing off, a couple of sleeping Red Roos, a Wallaby and a few assorted birds. Once rested, I rejoined Mel –  and caught up with her just in time to watch a flock of wild, snow white Cockatoos fly over her head between a Poinciana and Jacaranda tree.

Birds love Jacaranda trees even when they’re no longer in bloom.  (In case you’re wondering, the bird on the left has a feather in it’s beak.)

More Boomers, each looking like one of Joe Miller’s Wannabe Secret Service Agents - all that’s missing are the ear pieces and curly cords. But can’t you just hear them?
“Roo-1 to Roo-2 are you in position, over?”
“Roo-1 this is Roo-2 I am in position over…”
“Roger that Roo-2… Roo-3 alert… alert… suspicious-looking journo at two o’clock, over” 

Panicked, Roo-3 screams “NOBODY GETS NEAR THE SACRED GUM TREE ON MY WATCH! NOBODY!” then rushes over to handcuff a little old lady holding a camera…

Mel was organizing video settings and I still wasn’t feeling quite up to snuff, so I wandered back to the gazebo and took photos of her taking photos. Actually, I took lots of pictures of Mel taking pictures, (my favourite kind of tourist photo) but most were either too dark or blurry to share. These are two that made it…

We headed back to the main area through a field of Emus. Mel took some promising shots that I’m anxious to see. Emu!

By now, though, I really was feeling out of sorts and tucked my camera away for safe keeping while I focused on getting from point a to point b without tripping and falling. The cafe was closing and we were trying to pick up Koala pictures and get something to eat. I remember walking to a picnic table, telling Mel I felt dizzy -letting myself down onto the bricks – and then – there were people all around speaking jibberish. My dentures were on the pavement beside my right arm and I mused how odd it was to see  them there and picked them up.

Mel’s voice came through the alien interpretor gizmo in my brain and I heard her say ‘she’s diabetic – need to give her…’ and then something cold and sweet was on my lips. Oh.  I know what that is… a lemon ice block! My brain was uscrambling. Wheelchairs and ambulances were being talked about. My contribution to the discussion was a periodic ‘no, no, really, I’m fine…just let me get up…’ but evidentally all anyone else heard was gurgling, and of course not much of my body was paying attention so I remained prone and undignified on the pavers. At some point I surrendered any thought of trying to stand up or be understood and just concentrated on sucking the ice block and let Mel take charge.

She got to ride in an Australian ambulance that day. She learned that ambulance crews here are fondly called ‘ambos’ and that they stay with their patient from the time they are picked up until after a doctor has been assigned and personally taken responsibility for the paient’s care. That can mean several hours of waiting in a line of guerneys in a cramped corridor – but they do not leave your side, ever.

It was Mel who explained to each new person on the scene that I was a diabetic and we hadn’t eaten properly during the day and I might have taken too much insulin with an ice cream – (my poorly-planned compensation for eating something way too sugary and full of calories on an otherwise empty stomach.) It was Mel who diligently and carefully explained each event of the day to those who needed to know and it was Mel who dug my ID and Medicare card from my wallet and turned it into hospital admissions.

She called my husband (who was 90-120 minutes away by car) and didn’t leave my side until his arrival. As I drifted in and out of consiousness, it was comforting to know she was still there, still watching out for me, this friend I’d only just met a few short hours before.

When my husband arrived it was after dark. Mel and I and our (by now familiar) crew of personal ambos were in the corridor of the ER facility, second in line to be seen by a doctor. Someone from admissions came by to tell us he was in the waiting area, and to inform me that I could only have one person with me in the ER. Mel spoke up and graciously bowed out, asking me on the way how she might recognize my hubbs. I remember telling her “you’ll know him – he looks just like Santa Claus”. She gave my hand a squeeze and then hubbs was standing over me shaking his head and stroking his snow white beard, trying to use a scolding look to hide the concern we both knew was there. I remember someone belly-laughing and making the coment ‘he really does look like Santa!’

By the time I got to see a doctor, I was actually sitting up and feeling chipper. I’d really just over-estimated how much insulin to take on a hot, summer day, brimming with excitement and physical exertion after not having eaten breakfast or lunch. Bad girl. Bad. Completely my fault. I have a royal scolding waiting for me in January when I next see my diabetes specialist.

After a couple of simple tests and a small meal, the doctor let me go home and hubbs and I walked out of the hospital. I sat on a bench while he went to get the car and I used the time to call Mel and let her know I was ok, to thank her for her above-and-beyond care of me during the whole mess and then hubbs pulled up and we were on our way home.

This was the last photo of Mel on my camera:

Thank you so much Mel – I was lucky to have you there that day and hope to make it up to you before you leave Oz soil.

*          *         *

Afterthoughts:

Before I close, I’d like to share a couple of other things that Mel had a first-hand chance to observe:

1) Australia has a public option for health care. My private insurance dropped a few years ago and while I fully intend to get it back once I’ve been working for a few more months, I have the option to claim Medicare. Let me use the experience of the day to define the reality of a healthcare public option:

An ambulance picked me up from a state park, 40 minutes outside city limits on a busy, Friday afternoon. Two paramedics inserted a tube in my hand through which medication was applied when needed. They covered me with monitors, then took constant readings of heart activity, blood pressure and blood counts. They worked non-stop for well over an hour to keep me conscious, even though each time I came back it meant vomitting on one of them. A third attendant drove us all into the city to a hospital equipped with emergency services. I don’t know about the driver, but the two paramedics stayed with me at arm’s reach until a hospital doctor took over, sometime that night. I don’t know for certain, but I’m guessing the entire incident took beween 3-6 hours.

At some point in the hospital emergency triage, I was asked if I had private insurance. I said no and told Mel my ID and Medicare card were in my wallet. She fished it all out and handed over what the triage nurse needed.

When my husband arrived, he was led straight to me where he stayed the entire time. Nobody coralled him to do paperwork first. Everything the hospital needed to know about my medical history was on the computer and available to the admin the second my identity was confirmed and my medicare number entered into the system.

In the ER, I was again hooked up to machines for readings of heart, blood pressure and blood counts, given a meal and an opportunity to clean myself up. Once I was ambulatory and there was no more worry of passing out, the doctor discharged me, suggesting I contact my *GP on the Monday, just as a precauion.

*(Point of interest; when I saw my docor on Monday, everything he needed to know about the incident was on his computer as the databases between private dotors, hospitals and healtcare services are all linked.)

Then, my husband and I walked out of the hospital, saying thank you to everyone on the way.

There were no forms to fill out. No permissions to check. No bill to  pay. And there is no bill coming in the mail. The next time the ambulance company has a collection drive I will be sure to donate a little extra. It will be what I can afford, however, not an amount demanded of me.

There are no death panels in the public option. Nobody separated me from the group of guerneys in the corridor because I was on public healthcare instead of private insurance. Emergency room triage works according to the severity of your complaint, not how much you can pay. At least three guerneys passed me in the corridor carrying those with more severe injuries than mine, and at least two guerneys were behind me with patients covered by private insurance.

As soon as I can hold up my end again financially I will be happy to get back on private insurance and give my government a break. Why wouldn’t I?

2) Mel and I met a cabbie who launched a conversation about Sarah Palin the instant he heard Mel was from Alaska. There was no convincing him Sarah wasn’t a brilliant politician. To quote the man “…well of course she’s very smart and knows what she’s talking about -after all she was picked to run for Vice President of The United States! They wouldn’t have picked her if she wasn’t credible!”

Once out of the taxi I turned to Mel and said “and that’s why I started my blog. Because out here, in the rest of the world, people so trust Americans to make the right decision that countries go to war for us – and back our candidates – too often without question. I’m just grateful that this man’s opinion of Sarah is no longer the norm – that more and more ‘outsiders’ are waking up to her lunacy every day.”

Mel and I chatted a few minutes more about how lovely it will be when we can concentrate our writings on other, more important matters than the Wasilla Hllbillies – and never mentioned Sarah again. All things considered, it was a lovely day :)

(whole rant can be read here)

So while (most of) the rest of us are reading bedtime stories to the kids and helping them choose the best food to put out for Santa and Rudolph, Scarey-Scarah is still wearing her halloween costume and crapping on about the evil Democrats and their even more evil Death Panels.

Is there no one in the country who can get this woman to stop spewing her hateful, crunchwrapped garbage?

What take-over? What Death panel? And how can you possibly claim a bill which has been publicly disected for MONTHS to be… rammed through?

Democrats are as American as Republicans and even if ‘their’ version of the health-care bill passes, it’s NOT A TAKE OVER WHEN BOTH PARTIES ARE ABLE TO VOTE you ignorant, spiteful, malicious miscreant.

I wish no harm to befall Sarah Palin. But if someone could just separate her from her Blackberry for a month or so that would be good.

(Wait – is that a precatory prayer?)

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