Sara’s Bio: 1999

Let me see. I was born in Penola District Hospital, last child of four. My parents were farmers, and for the first seven years of my life I lived on their property outside Penola – Gundealga. We had sheep, lots of scrub, and a fairly carefree existence.

When I was school age we moved to Adelaide, South Australia, where I commenced some eleven years of education at Methodist Ladies College. Post education, lacking any clear direction in life, I became a nurse …..

There are some years here best forgotten. I toiled away on the wards, hating every moment of it. although there is one amusing story I can tell. I worked for many years at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, eventually becoming what was then known as The Ward Sister (actually, I was filling in, but I did fill that exalted position for some months). I was working on an orthopaedic ward, and orthopaedic wards were always half full of old ladies who had fallen over and broken their hips, and half full of young bikers, who had fallen off their bikes and broken one, or two, legs (the nurses could never work out which half was worse). There was one young man who annoyed me incessantly about a pain in his belly. He was constipated, but did Sr Warneke tell him that? No! Her creative imagination remembered a horror story she’d read many years ago, and from that, she ‘rearranged’ the poor chap’s diagnosis:

“Well,” she said, sitting on the side of his bed and staring sympathetically at both his legs in plaster, and privately wondering how in the world he would manage to balance on a bedpan while all his leather-clad cronies waited just beyond the curtain, “I hear you’ve just come back from a holiday in northern Queensland.” He nodded. “Yes.”

“Hmm. Well, ” Sr Warneke leaned conspiratorially closer, as if she had something of great import to impart. Actually, she didn’t want any of the other staff to overhead. She did have her reputation as The Ward Sister to protect, after all. “A pain running about your abdomen, you say?”

“Yes, Sister! It shifts all the time!”

“Ah …”

“What is it?”

“Well …”

“Tell me!”

“Well … I was reading this medical journal the other day, and it reported a strange diagnosis made on the west coast of America.”


“It appears a young man, much like yourself, was swimming in tropical waters –”

“– I went swimming in Queensland!”

“– and it appears he unwittingly swallowed the eggs of an octopus.”

At this the poor man had nothing to say, and merely stared at the Revered Ward Sister, whom he trusted implicitly.

Sr Warneke continued, her voice now the merest whisper. “The eggs hatched! Inside his bowel!”

“Oh!” The man laid his hands over his stomach: they clenched compulsively, rumpling the bedsheet into horrible creases.

“Then,” Sr Warneke continued, now thoroughly enjoying herself, “the tiny octopusses — or octopii, I’m not sure of the correct –”

“Get on with it!”

“Well, then the tiny octopussies started to swim about his abdominal spaces, growing larger on the fluids there. The poor man complained incessently of pains, always shifting direction, and although the doctors did X-rays, nothing showed up.”

“An octopus has no bones, or cartilage.”

“Quite right. So … eventually the poor chap died, and it was only when they were doing the autopsy, and they opened his belly, and all these octopussies swept out over the cold stone floor that they realised what had happened.”

“Oh my God!”

“But I’m sure that’s not what’s wrong with you,” Sr Warneke said soothingly, and then left the poor sod and went home. She thought no more of the matter, because what kind of fool could have believed that?

Two days later was the Grand Ward Round. Only if you have ever seen Doctor in the House can you imagine the Grand Ward Round. I always enjoyed them immensely, because all the sirs and professors where kind and charming to the ward sister, while they were hateful and horrible to all the interns and registrars, who drove Ward Sisters crazy.

And Sr Warneke loved to see those interns and registrars squirm.

And didn’t those interns and registrars know it.

So, to cut a long story short, the Grand Ward Round progressed in its stately fashion about the ward with about 25 young interns and registrars, the Ward Sister, and six or seven assorted sirs and professors (always known as the Gods). Whenever it got to a bed. the assorted six or seven Gods stood about the inner row of the patients’ bed, the Ward Sister among them, the rabble of hateful young doctors squeezed about in a circle some five or six deep.

As you can guess, eventually we get to the young broken-legged and horribly constipated man. Sr Warneke had forgotten all about the tale she’d spun the man 2 days earlier. For a while the discussion ranged about the issue of the broken legs, and then one of the Gods asked the man if there was anything he’d like to ask.

So the chappie mentioned these roving pains and, just as one of the Gods was about to cheerfully diagnose constipation, the man hurried on and, word for word, told the story that Sr Warneke had spun him. He did it excellently, quoting the medical references she’d made up and all.

Sr Warneke was horrified. Worse, she was mortified. Even worse, she knew that any moment she was about to be exposed. She started to fidget and wriggle about as if she had just realised she’d forgotten to order the cream cakes for the Gods’ Grand Morning Tea in half an hour.

The hateful rabble of young doctors realised there was something wrong, and closed in for the kill. She couldn’t escape. Then …

“And where did you learn all this, young man?” asked one of the Gods.

“She told me!” the man said, a finger stabbing in my direction.

As one every eye turned towards Sr Warneke. Sister heard one of the hateful young doctors snigger. She started to compose her resignation letter in her head. Then one of the Gods spoke.

“Well,” he said, “We shall all have to read those journals, won’t we? In the meantime, perhaps Ward Sister can ask one of her probationers to give the patient an enema and see what comes out.”

And he smiled at Sr Warneke, then waved over to the next bed. “Shall we move on?”

As one the hateful young doctors hissed in frustration, Sr Warneke collapsed in relief, and the Ward Round continued in its stately fashion through to the cream cakes and a very relieved Sister serving the Gods tea in the isolation of her office.

“You owe us one, Sister,” said the God who had saved me, and Sister nodded gratefully.

Gods, I’ve never forgotten that day, and that patient stabbing his finger in my direction. “She told me!”

I punctuated my nursing career with a trip abroad, spending time in England and Europe … best time of my younger life (I avoided tropical waters!). Then, back in Adelaide, I became more and more bored and frustrated with nursing, and eventually commenced a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide. I liked it so much I stayed to do a PhD, then the only place offering a job in history and an escape from nursing was Bendigo, so I grabbed it and ran.

In early 1999 I abandoned my academic career and all my fussing academic colleagues to concentrate on tending my garden and developing my writing. And so here I am at Ashcotte, full of hopes for the future, at least 6 books whizzing about my head, a garden pond to dig out and three garden beds to dig and lay out for spring (how shall I do it?), and now it’s time for a hot bath and a glass of wine, and so I shall have to leave you. As I think of more amusing stories from my varied past I shall put them up.

Editors note: This bio was taken from Sara’s website circa 1999.