Michael Muschamp

A Cricket Match to Remember

It is my 57th birthday. I wake and see that I am more than somewhat plugged in to all sorts of apparatuses. My tongue is dryer than the Simpson Desert. Then I remember. Yesterday I am playing cricket at a winery at Romsey.

It is hardly a high-class affair being the Wine Trade against the Wine Press and, as I have some reputation as a scribe on matters vinous I am included in the latter lot. We bat first so do not imbibe.

The opening pair are by no means duffers who score about 50 between them; then second wicket falls and it is that of my 17 year old son who, as he passes me (I am 'second drop') greatly improves my self-esteem, "You won't get any runs, father." I therefore approach the pitch, determined to score at least one run. I then discover that local rules forbid a batsman going out until he has scored at least one run. Thus I set a target of double figures aiming to score at least ten runs. Half an hour later, someone calls out from the pavilion, "Another two runs and you have to retire." To the astonishment of one and all, I score 48 runs. The next ball comes down, a long-hop (most of the opposing sides bowlers specialise in either full-tosses or long hops and sometimes both). I march down the pitch aiming to hit a six, or at least a four. I miss the ball completely, am stumped and depart to, if not rapturous applause, at least a clap or twain. Then it happens.

An appalling pain across my chest; my wrists and ankles feel ten times their normal size. I writhe on the ground, then get up. A great friend declares, "He's having a heart attack. I saw my old man just like his and he dies on the spot."

I am driven at Peter Brock speed by the winemaker/owner's son to the nearby township where, glory be, the GP is still in his rooms (at about 1.30 on a Sunday afternoon). He administers this and that, notably morphine and telephones for an ambulance which duly arrives in about 20 minutes. In the meantime, the doctor has done an ECG and hands it to the ambulance driver who states, "I'm not driving him back to Melbourne, he'll cark it before I get there."

I am drifting in and out of consciousness but I remember this to my dying day which, to the surprise of many, is not 19 March 1989. By one of those extraordinary pieces of luck, the Police helicopter is only five minutes away. It lands in a field nearby and I am off the Royal Melbourne where I stay in Intensive Care for three days and am then transferred to a ward.

My ever-loving wife is somewhat concerned all through this for she follows the helicopter to the RMH not knowing whether she is going to have to identify a corpse or not. I leave the hospital after ten days and go home. Not an easy time for SWISO (She Who Is Sometimes Obeyed). She rallies round as only she can, despite being, to all intents and purposes, a cripple.

Weeks turn into months and it is made clear to me that I am not a well person. By early 1994 it is plain to the experts that I shall only survive if I get a replacement ticker.

Pretty well on the fifth anniversary of the cricket match, I am inspected by Don Esmore who decides that, despite my advanced age, I am worthy of a transplant.

Six hundred days pass. I go the races at Stony Creek where an animal which we part-own having its first start, cheers us all up a large amount by winning. We celebrate with a couple of the other owners with a bottle of Mrs Bollinger's best.

As we imbibe, I remember Dr Bergin's dictum of over two years ago, "we'd very much prefer it if you didn't drink from now on." More than somewhat of a blow, for there are few days in the past forty-five years when I have failed to imbibe some thing or other of an alcoholic nature. To the astonishment of almost all (and particularly that of SWISO), I keep to this arrangement but consider that I cannot let the win go past without some kind of celebratory imbibing.

At four o'clock the next morning, the phone rings. It is the wondrous Louise McFarlane. "Darling," she says, "This one's got your name on it."

So SWISO plus son go with me to The Alfred where I report to the Emergency Department as instructed. I am about to check in when SWISO appears. Now I should explain that she is on crutches as she suffers a major pelvic disaster as a result of being pulled over by The Dog. Thus the reception clerk is more than somewhat amazed when I state that I am there for a heart transplant. "What about your wife?" she asks. SWISO states in no uncertain terms that it is I who require admission.

We ascend to the operating suite where I am greeted by none other than the surgeon who, a few months before, had appeared after I am prepped/shaved and so on with the news that, "the donor organ is not much better than the one you already have." This is, of course, why Louise is so happy to give me the news today. Whereupon SWISO, son and self depart. This time, Mr Cochrane is much more positive. Next thing I know, I am waking in the ICU, where I remain for three days, then to a ward.

I am more than somewhat astonished to find that the fellow in the next bed is a Russian. Not just any old Russian but one whose last job is selling arms to Cuba. He speaks no English; my Russian is limited to 'spasibo tovarich' 'nyet and 'da'. We converse in mottled Spanish or German but seem to understand one another at least 30% of the time.

I am discharged after a total of twelve days on the Friday before the Australia Day long weekend which is not only a surprise but one of the goofier decisions made. How are we to cope, SWISO on crutches, self less than two weeks after a (very) major operation? Somehow we do, thanks to the splendid ever-loving wife of mine.

I now survive just over sixteen years; this is thanks to a multitude of citizens, not just the marvellous cardiologists and support staff at the HLT Clinic but a plethora of others for, and here I know I am not on my Tod Malone, I suffer sundry ills as side-effects from the drugs which keep me in this world.

There is a drop of bowel cancer, a double hernia, a 7kg seroma as well as a few minor but no less annoying bits and pieces such as diabetes, lots of skin things, gum hypertrophy, lymphoedema. It is no achievement on my part that I am, to the surprise of many and, doubtless, the disgust of some that I face my ninth decade with a good deal of confidence.

How lucky can anybody, let alone such as I, be?

Michael Muschamp (with apologies to Damon Runyon).