February 12, 2014

The Seven (and more) Signs of Ageing and Exemptions from Mutual Obligations [Guest post]

When one is unemployed, one must comply with compulsory Mutual Obligation Activities, organised by ones Job Service Provider (JSP). This is something akin to conscription. Any attempt to get an exemption from this, and you’re seen as a job avoider, a deserter, an absconder, a pariah! even.

I’ve been told several times now, by certain employees of Job Services Australia, that my pain - stiffness, dizziness and general malaise - is really just well, old age. That it’s not for ‘wimps’ and I should just get on with things. Getting on with what though? That’s the important question.

Given the above, I think it only fitting to talk about what ‘old age’ is for a woman of a certain age like me, and whether or not it might be something more sinister; as suggested by a medico quite recently when I popped in for some light handy work!

Scary Old Coots and Does Working for a Living Mean the Unemployed are Dead

Close readers of my previous post - 'A Spinsters Guide to Dole Bludging Purgatory', will be familiar with my ongoing problems with arthritis and my constant search for a good GP. One who is well versed in chronic pain management and has some understanding of our unresponsive tick and flick welfare system. An organisation whose staff resemble either a used car salesman (if you happen to get a good one) or a rip snorting Bitch whose modelled herself on Irma Grese - one of the female guards from Belsen in Nazi occupied Germany.

One GP seriously thought that Job Service Providers were staffed with medical personnel, or at least supervised by them. Raucous laughter could be heard ringing throughout the entire surgery, and after I stopped laughing, I told said GP that I thought that perhaps they were confused with workers compensation.

Anyhoo, to be exempt from participating in mutual obligation activity agreements, one needs a medical certificate from a GP. While I was there, I had the GP take a look at some lesions on my skin that required removing. The GP who carried out this procedure was an ‘older fellow’ from country Australia, a bit gruff! Spoke with a gravelly voice and he seemed to have an irritable temperament. Perhaps that was the result of having to deal with unemployed persons such as myself, coming in with pesky boring old issues, having to be bulk billed and taking up precious medical skills that should be used on the paying hard working patients. But then, perhaps he was just constipated! who can say. I have a wee suspicion that he may have been used to working on large animals. I’ll get to that in a minute. So what did the old coot do you say?

I’m glad you asked, at this point you might want to get a cup of tea, or coffee, or plonk even. He told me to take my top off and to lay down on one of those gurney things they have in GP surgeries that never look quite wide enough to me. He needed to have a good gander, so, lie down I did. I should have known better at this stage but quick as you can he said, “I’ll take that off right now”. I’ve never had anything removed before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. 

He was making light chit chat while he examined my lesion and asked what work I did for a living. I said I was unemployed at present to which he replied “are you healthy?” I thought, perhaps he might be referring to the difficulties of eating fresh healthy meals when you’re trying to live (bludge) on $35 a day. So I said “well you know I try to eat healthy foods” to which he interrupted and said, “no! no! I mean you’re not HIV are you?” 

How silly of me to think seniore’ quack was displaying a remarkably compassionate bedside manner towards a patient trying to survive on the Newstart allowance. By the way, what is this ‘New Start’ malarkey!? And, what exactly are they making allowances for? Sorry, I got distracted.

Look, can I be honest with you here? Am I paranoid? Or,  was that a reference to his assumptions and stereotypes about the unemployed? “If you’re HIV,” He said, “You might not heal very well”. No, I said I’m definitely not HIV.

So I thought for a moment, when someone asks you what you do for a living, what does that mean? If you’re not ‘working for a living’ doesn’t that then imply you must be, well, ‘dead’. That’s certainly old then isn’t it?

It’s Surgery! Not Home Renovations

So seniore’ GP asked me to scoot over on the gurney closer toward him. He leaned right into it, pressing against me, and with one hand grabbed the other side of my hip and pulled me over towards him. At this stage I was feeling rather tense and alarmed. Relax he said, and rather tersely at that, and looking down, I watched as he slowly injected a local anaesthetic into my stomach. He repeatedly retracted and reinserted the needle in and around my aberrant lesion - Fark!... it…. hurt (oh! Potty mouth I know!). I couldn’t help but say shiiiiiiiiit! Out loud. He mumbled something about it hurting quite a bit as a result of having to inject the needle into the stomach muscles.

So while he waited for the anaesthetic to take effect he took this moment to educate a medically illiterate unemployed person such as myself, as to what the lesion was, why I had it, and not to worry as it wasn’t cancerous, nor was it contagious. 

It seems I have a seborrhoeic keratoses. They usually look like crusty brown/black spots which seem to be stuck onto the skin- (how very attractive you’re saying). Seniore’ GP then said, “at least it’s not on your neck or your face because they can be quite unsightly”. Unsightly! Unsightly! How very rude of seniore’ to suggest that I was somehow hideously disfigured by this lesion, and I couldn’t possibly inflict myself onto the general public. Anyone would think that it had hairs and teeth coming out of it! Not unlike those big hairs I saw poking out of his nose and ears. Given I was so unsightly, I wondered if I would qualify for a medical exemption from my Mutual Obligation activities. He could write on the medical certificate - ‘hideously disfigured’ in the diagnostic category and - “unlikely to improve anytime soon in the near future” -  for the prognosis.

So I wanted to know what caused these lesions. 

Apparently, it’s all part of the ageing process, lucky me! 

So seniore’ GP dragged over a metal trolley which had a black metal box sitting on top and silver metal switches on the front. There was a long cord coming out the back to which some kind of hand tool was attached at the end. It looked very much like a soldering iron. He placed this instrument at the foot of the gurney between my two feet and then said, “Now how does this thing work?” If ever there was a perfect time to be a “Job absconder" now was it. 

For a fleeting second I imagined myself jumping off the gurney, quickly running out the door making some sort of excuses as to why I couldn’t stay. But of course it was too late for that. While he was busy flicking switches on and off trying to figure out how to turn this medieval apparatus on and rid me of my ghastly black encrusted pox, I noticed something glowing red at the foot of the gurney.

Then seniore’ quickly swooped it up and said, “Righto! We’re ready to go!” 

I thought about looking away but I couldn’t, you know like you do when you’re drawn to some grisly horror picture. So I watched intently as the red tip of this sorcerers instrument was placed on my lesion and melted away my pox. Yes, it was burnt off with a red hot iron, how lovely! He even had the courtesy of kindly letting me know that the pungent smell wafting about the surgery was my skin burning. I kid you not, he actually! said that. 

Apart from the injections it was a painless and very quick procedure, but no doubt antiquated, because they’ve long since discovered liquid nitrogen and cryosurgery. Perhaps seniore’ GP really did get confused and accidently used a soldering iron. Or, perhaps this is some secret medical procedure only to be used on the likes of non-paying unemployed scum like me.

So readers might be thinking at this stage why I didn’t just shop around for another more suitable medico who would happily take care of my ailments, one that is used to dealing with welfare filth. I mean we all know that those on welfare are nothing but malingerers who doctor shop, rorting the system dry. Each and every-one of us is personally responsible for the budget deficit.

Firstly, when you cannot attend your mutual obligation activities, you must provide a medical certificate to Centrelink and it has to be handed in before the appointment or before your program starts, depending on whether you have weekly or fortnightly appointments, otherwise you’re in breach of your obligations. 

If you do happen to find a sympathetic doctor, they might not work full time, and they’re often so good at their job, everybody wants to be their patient, so it can takes weeks to get an appointment. So what should you do?, book in just in case your job service provider happens to arrange a totally inappropriate activity for your circumstances that you can’t do. You also need to book a double appointment, because the doctor doesn’t just write a medical certificate like writing a prescription. This further excludes your chances of getting a quick appointment. 

Finding a good city doctor who takes the time to get to know their patients and who is willing to practice good medicine in order to be able to do their best for their patients takes’ time. But they don’t always stay in the practice for long, my long term doctor after nine years left medicine to do something else altogether and another left the state. More recently, another left the practice to move suburbs to a new and smaller clinic because she hated working for the medical centre that I had been attending for years because it changed the way it practiced medicine.

So I was left with a bright red spot on my stomach. But seniore’ GP wasn’t finished with me yet. He continued to regale me with lurid stories about my pox. He told me that the old ‘witch’ or ‘crone’ commonly seen in children’s stories pictured with a wart on the end of her nose, probably had a seborrhoeic keratosis like mine. And then it hit me - like a bolt of lightning. Only now had I come to understand what all this talk of old age was, and realised not only what I had been struck down with, but also what fate awaits me.

Sudden Onset Cronism

The following is a list of signs and symptoms that fulfils the diagnostic criteria for cronism. At least seven or more of the symptoms must be present for the diagnosis to be made.
  1.         Unexplained cackling
  2.         Frequent early morning haggardness
  3.         Remarkable ability to straddle a broom. (I recommend a V8 Millet)
  4.         Decreased acceptance by others
  5.         Defeating Satan in all-night chess games (OK I just made that one up)
  6.         Riding Storms
  7.         Bundles of sage appear under pillows
  8.         Night independence
  9.         Increased levels of both whimsy and malice (nice)
  10.         Wickedness
  11.         Curses increasing in strength and duration (very, very useful)
  12.         Disappearing from mortal eyes during the winter months
  13.         Fires immediately go out when you enter the room
  14.         Hexing cattle (Mad cow disease?)
According to Wikipedia, a crone is a female character in folklore and fairy tale. In some stories, she is disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner - often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing. I don’t know about you but I LIKE HER already!!!

The Crone is also an archetypal figure, a Wise Woman. She is marginalized by her exclusion from the reproductive cycle, (that’s me! I’m baron alright!). Her proximity to death places her in contact with occult wisdom. As a character type, the crone shares characteristics with the hag (she’s my bestie).

The word "crone" is a less common synonym for "old woman," and in New Age and Feminist spiritual circles, a "Croning" is a ritual rite of passage into an era of wisdom, freedom, and personal power. I could do with a good ‘Croning’ whose up for it?

It’s Check Point Charlie Time

So I tell seniore’ GP that I was really only wanting to request a medical certificate as I was not capable of doing my conscripted activities for mutual obligation, on account of my arthritis. I asked him if he could show mercy on a poor crone and save me from the eternal fires of damnation. He said what!? And then I said what!? And then I said “oh never mind”. He asked me if I had the form to sign to which I replied that I was to understand it was something that he should have access too.  Eventually after quite a bit of fiddling and rusting about on the computer he found what he was looking for.

There is a box on the Centrelink medical certificate for the doctor to write the prognosis. There used to be several boxes for them to tick regarding your symptoms and whether they are likely to persist, but Centrelink in tightening its rules and regulations and has amended the form. Now, all but those who are in a coma are eligible to participate in mutual obligation activities.  Seniore’ GP, wanting by this stage to get me out of the surgery and on my way, filled out the form rather quickly and in the section for prognosis he wrote ‘uncertain’.

So of course I stood in line with all the other unemployables at Centrelink waiting to hand in my certificate. There are no longer counter staffed dealing with all welfare recipients issues, with only one employee who rushes off to morning tea the minute it gets to your turn leaving you and all the other towy clients furious enough to burst a boiler. Instead, as an efficiency measure, we now have a specific staff member for people on Newstart standing behind what looks like a lectern with a computer embedded into the top. 

So it gets to my turn, and a female staff member asks for my details and reference number -  like they always do, and I hand over my medical certificate. It feels like I’m handing over identity papers at some military check point. She glances down and says, “I’m not accepting this”. I want to know why, and she tells me that my condition isn’t permanent and therefore I do not qualify for an exemption. I protest and say that I have arthritis which is a permanent disability, and that the doctor has made a clerical error on the form. She can hear the tension in my voice, but she says “that not the point”. 

I can feel my body physically begin to retreat, because it’s all so difficult and all so hard, and you often feel like giving up. But I know that if I don’t get this form in her hand and onto my record, I will face another useless job club with pointless activities that won’t support me, waste my time, and that are very likely run by a staff member who long ago stopped being compassionate about the unemployed. 

“Look, I said, my condition is not stabilised, it’s permanent, it won’t get better it’s only going to get worse”. So she agreed she would take it “this time”. There you have it Centrelink can override a medical opinion and deny your claim for an exemption. According to government ministers this policy is in the best interests of everyone because it’s only the genuinely vulnerable who should be getting welfare benefits. Therefore, the government has to enact policy reforms to stop all that nasty rorting going on and ensure that the most vulnerable are taken care of.

1 comment:

  1. Can't believe that someone hasn't commented yet. I believe I may know your bestie hag.And given you're stella diagnostic category for cronism, not to be confused with chrons disease, I'm quite sure that I too have sudden onset cronism. I'm looking forward to having a good croning, and using my newly acquired curses.

    BTW is the devil any good at chess?