The Man in the Hacky Sack Hat
Gratitude is one of those things women have been clobbered over the head with since the advent of social media. Hash-tagging our most banal domestic moments and burying our building anxiety lest we are condemned as great ugly beasts of ingratitude.
Men are far less pressured into publicly shouting their many blessings. One such man is Andrew Bolt who, in an attempt to make us realise just how #blessed we are, wrote a column about all the things women should be thankful for and specifically the ‘odds’ that it will be a man to thank. He posited that being mad at men because they statistically rape and murder us is tantamount to ignoring all the times that men statistically save and protect us by doing either highly paid or universally revered jobs men are statistically more likely to do. Aside from the fact that we’ve been fighting, rather successfully, to challenge and change those statistics for more than a century now, some of his examples displayed the kind of circular logic that sees gun sales in America soar after a mass shooting. Celeste Liddle speared his ‘fireman’ argument with great eloquence: “If a woman needs saving from a burning house,” Bolt huffed, “odds are it will be a man who defies the flames”. “And odds are it was a man who lit it,” she countered, a chilling reminder that on three separate occasions in Australia this week a woman has been burnt to death in her home in a blaze intentionally lit by a man known to her. Such horrific acts are not made any less so by the fact that they destroy Andrew Bolt's logic and question his ignorance or bad taste at asking women to be grateful to (male) firefighters in the same week as (male) partners are killing them in fires.
“If a woman needs an emergency operation,” he wrote, “odds are it will be a man who performs it.” The first time I needed an emergency operation was for the birth of my daughter in 2010 and since then I’ve had another two. On all three occasions, the surgeries were performed by women and in two of the three occasions, the anaesthetists were also women. How about those odds, Mr Bolt?
But I’m not here to swap heated generalisations and anecdotes with Andrew Bolt. (I met him once, in the days before his foray into political performance art. He was the ‘surprise’ media celebrity at the opening of a cheese factory in Warrnambool. I gave him his name-tag and a slice of cheese. But I digress.) I’m here to show my gratitude to a man who, in defiance of all the odds, left an indelible mark on me. He comes to my mind often, and I was compelled to write about him with all this talk about ‘odds’ and ‘gratitude’.
The second major operation performed on me by a woman was for the birth of my second child. I was advised against attempting a natural birth past 38 weeks due to the risk of rupture as a result of damage caused by the first major operation performed on me by a woman. Damage I am not the least bit ungrateful for because I am grateful to her for saving my life. In an emergency scenario, everything happens very fast; there was a lot of rushing and beeping and not a lot of time to take everything in, but I do remember being read what felt like my last rites, in a panic. But the second time around was different. I had a booked slot, and more time to take in those final moments before the arrival of my child. I felt alive with heightened awareness and noticed everything; the faux-retro clock on the wall and the radio station playing drive-time babble. I felt positively high and ready to meet my child, but I landed back on earth with a thud when a clipboard-carrying nurse read me those familiar last rites, slowly and deliberately this time, and then escorted my husband out of the room so I could be prepped. I was led into the surgery, terrified and alone.
A man appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and he pulled up a chair in front of me. He had a kind, unshaven face, and was wearing scrubs and a hat that looked as if it were made out of hacky sacks.
“Hello, Amy,” he said. And he told me his name but I didn’t hear him, too busy wondering if the man in the hacky sack hat was a real man or just a figment of my terror or whatever opiates were drag-racing in my veins.
I’m paraphrasing him now, but the gist of what he said next was this: “Now Amy, the doctors and nurses here all have jobs to do and they need a lot of focus to do them, so my job is to take care of you.” He took both of my hands in his and kept unwavering eye contact. “If you feel anything unusual, if you feel scared or sick or weird, you just tell me and if you can’t speak, you just squeeze my hands and I’ll take care of you. OK, Amy?”
And I think I said: “OK”.
By this time, the anaesthetic was really sinking in and I felt my body tingling. And then a familiar wave of nausea swept over me. I felt faint and sick, my ears began ringing and the man in the hacky sack hat disappeared down a black hole.
“Amy?” Amy?” his concerned voice echoed under water.
“I’m sorry,” I slurred, “but I think I might faint….”
After a flurry of voices and orders given in haste, a shot of something bolted through me. I opened my eyes and there he was, still holding my limp, clammy hands.
“Nothing to worry about. Your blood pressure dropped but they gave you something to fix it. How do you feel? Ready to have a baby?”
“Yes,” I said and the shards of fear melted away like honey.
“Here’s your partner now. Good luck Amy, good luck….”
Like a magic trick, my husband appeared just as the man in the hacky sack hat disappeared but I had no time to ponder the exchange as the serious business of delivering a child began. I don’t remember much more after that except that when the (female) surgeon began cajoling my slippery, uncooperative baby to come out she exclaimed, with a laugh “Ho ho, you’re a LOT bigger than your sister was!” When I heard the powerful scream that followed, I knew I’d had a son even though, statistically, there is no data at all to suggest they scream any louder. But statistics and reason are no match for our illogical bias. Just ask Andrew Bolt.
When it was over, I breastfed him in recovery, glowing with hormones and - yes- gratitude. I had already said a few weird, oxytocin-induced things to the midwives afterwards - “does my room have a north-facing window so I can watch the lunar eclipse?” - so I didn’t want to risk asking if there had really been a magical unicorn man present before the birth. But later, on the ward, I whispered to my husband “did you see the man? The man with the hat made out of hacky sacks?”
The man in the hacky sack hat was a patient advocate and his uncommonly beautiful presence made a profound impact on my less-than-ideal birth experience. He made me feel cared for, listened to, noticed and nurtured during a difficult and frightening experience. He made me feel as safe as I feel in the arms of my mother. He was excellent at his job in care-giving, a field in which workers are underpaid, undervalued and mostly women because we are, statistically, supposed to be the world’s nurturers.
I am grateful to the three surgeons who have performed life-saving operations on me. They are all skilled women in a male-dominated field and if we're to have a fighting chance at dismantling gender bias, the world needs more of them.
And I am grateful to the man who showed me that men, regardless of whatever odds you want to trot out, are capable of profound care and nurturing. And if we're to have a fighting chance at dismantling toxic masculinity, a blight that kills more men and women every day than ingratitude ever has, the world needs more of them, too.