Sunday, January 27, 2019

Bye Sis, Rose Bridget Fernandes

Bye Sis!

In the dark light of the Midnight Hour when all is calm and silent… just 30 minutes after Australia Day had ended and a new day began, you quietly went away on January 27 in Westmead Hospital in Sydney where you had battled to survive for a month. We will always be grateful that you did not suffer on your journey to Heaven.
And we all died a little with you.

From that saddest of days, October 26, 2017, when you were diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, you never once lost heart over the next 14 months, you never lost your unforgettable smile or your supreme confidence that you “would beat this thing” and you were “never going to let anything stop you from living your life to the fullest.” And that is what you did. I sat with you through all those months of chemotherapy and it was just like having a weekly chat with a friend, full of cheer, laughter, stories, memories, nostalgia, things and people you loved, all the places in the world you travelled (USA, Canada, Goa, India, Kenya, UK, most of Europe, China, Japan (many more than once or several times), your adventures in Australia, hiking all over the country, picking fruit and veg on camping holidays and, of course, your intrepid walks all over the place but especially to church whenever you had the time. You never missed a weekday or a Sunday in church. Your faith was always eternal.

You absolutely revelled in your life, “You don’t need too much money, Skip,” you told me often. Financially, you were the most successful in our family.

Within a few weeks of setting a date for the first chemo session and with time on your hands, you asked me to come on a safari to Australia’s Northern Territory… Uluru, Alice Springs, Darwin, Kakadu National Park … a two week holiday both of us would be talking about past memories, things that needed to be said, and, always of course plenty to laugh about … there was always one more thing you wanted to tell me (or I wanted to tell you) about the wonderful time we spent together.

Of course, once the chemo started, you came to stay with me. I felt truly blessed for the time I would spend with you and memories we would make. Those long chats in between glancing at the TV screens, cooking your favourite dishes or just letting you get on with whatever took your fancy. You were never a patient, always just your bubbly (sometimes very strict about this or that, putting your foot down and say simply: No. That is not good enough.) self, your funny, funny little jokes about this or that or nothing in particular.

Also particularly special for me was the time you spent with Mum … she lived with you in the UK and migrated with you to Australia. With your sister Regina Flora, you were always together and shared some fantastic memories … especially with mum being the funniest and sometimes with a temper that resembled the hottest dried red chillies. However, take her to the local bookies or the slots at the local clubs and she was your friend for life!

All of your life you have been particularly close to your siblings. Our hearts broke when we lost Hippol very early in his life and Peter a few years ago. Both played a big role in your life and gave lots of encouragement on your path to young womanhood. Your brother Johnny was always just a phone call away and you called every day, sometimes three and four times, especially recently. Your sis Regina Flora, the baby of the family has been the one person who has been by your side for always, especially after Mum left us and you were on your own. The three of you seemed to be together all the time. It was an unforgettable time of your life.

The thing that astounded me about you over the past 14 months was that you did not show the slightest hint of being a cancer patient. You did everything, went everywhere and enjoyed whatever you wanted to. You used to even regularly visited your other “home” Blacktown Hospital where you worked and they would all be smiling (and a little curious) to see you looking so well.

One of your friends there described you as “the light that shone on everyone, especially with that beautiful caring smile”.

Like the rest of your siblings, you were a self-made person. You were smallest in height (not much taller than Mum), huge in heart, you let nothing get in the way of your success in every aspect of your life. Each new job taught you a new lesson in life … remember the guy in North Sydney who would not let you have a new pencil until the old one had reached less than an inch (2.5 cm) … you hated that first but you quickly learnt the lesson of prudence, thrift and economy.  Or the boss who told you: Do it yourself … and that was your life motto from that moment on … she will be smiling when she reads this.

There are many, many people in and around the world whose hearts you touched but especially at Blacktown Hospital in the anaesthetics department. The place has not been the same without, according to several of your colleagues.

You were never afraid. You did things, went to places, found new adventures, everything on your own. You encouraged everyone you met to “do it on your own, don’t be afraid.” You certainly inspired your goddaughter Mary-Ann:
Aunty Bridget is my Godmother.  She was always happy and full of fun to be with.  I spent time with her on her trips to visit us in San Francisco and on our many family vacations in Sydney. We always had a great time together.  She was always keen to watch me grow up from a little girl to a young lady and had a lot of advice for me.

“Aunty Bridget had always told me that I should learn to be independent, to not rely on anyone to help take care of me and to be able to stand on my own two feet. She seemed like she felt very strongly about this and that it was very important to her that I too become independent, strong-willed, and strong-minded.

“Her message was heard loud and clear, as that's exactly what I've become. She has always been an inspiration to me, whether it be through her travels around the world on her own, even getting married when she saw fit, and how she lives her life, eating healthy and exercising. Nothing ever seemed too adventurous or too courageous for her.

“When I made my trips to Eastern Europe and then Greece, I had her in my mind when I thought I shouldn't travel on my own, that it would be too difficult, that I would feel lonely, or get lost, or something bad would happen and I wouldn't be able to fend for myself. I felt if she could manage it and have fun, and then I could manage it as well. I understand that God has his own plan for each one of us. She has been one of the most resilient women that I know.

“I will always have a special place in my heart for my dear Aunty Bridget.”

You were always a networker (even when the word had not been invented) …especially in Nairobi. You knew exactly who to talk to or whom to turn for help on behalf of anyone who sought your help. In Sydney, too, your address book was full of names of specialists, doctors, surgeons, nursing staff … and none of them ever said “no” if you ever needed their help … well, maybe just one. You had a smile for everyone, anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Over the past 17 years, you devoted yourself to your husband Gary Wilson. You showed him things that opened up his life, especially the travel.

When the time came, you knew it was time to say “goodbye”. You had been confident that the “pain in the stomach” would away and asked if you could come and stay with me to recuperate. And I said, “of course”. You said: “You know I love your cooking.” (Later when you could not open your eyes or talk too much and I promised you fish curry and rice, a broad smile would light up your face.)

Then some 16 days ago, you looked at me and quietly said: “Skip, I think I am going to die.” Both of us with breaking hearts, trembling bodies, quietly looked at the road ahead. You said: “No regrets, Skip. I have loved my life, my family, my friends, and the things I have achieved. I will never give up the fight … but I know now the Lord may call me sooner … and I will be with Mum, Dad, Hippol and Peter.” We both knew this was “Goodbye” but we could not get ourselves to say the word, it was enough that we just thought it in silence. It was the hardest time. Thank you for being so generous about your feelings towards me. And the next day, you took the first steps on that journey as your body began the slow, slow process of shutting down. But every day, Gary, Flora, Priscilla (niece), Johnny, Matilda and I were with you day and night … we tried to cheer you up, joked, Priscilla played videos of your favourite music especially Jambo Bwana and Abba, and that office video you made … you dancing away to an Abba number … or that scintillating speech you made at a party thrown by Johns family at their home in Strathfield (you were instrumental in hiring Dr Bryne John, and she never forgot that you stood up for her) and lots of other nostalgia. We would get a tiny smile, a twitch, a shake or a nod of the head … in your comatose state you heard everything and everyone … we were grateful for small mercies.

And that day when Johnny arrived from San Francisco … although you could not say much, your face and your smile lit up like a big, big full moon, the Nairobi kind. We were afraid he would be too late; you knew better and waited for him to arrive in Sydney.

There were no tears at our farewell, just a celebration of gratitude for the good memories and promise to face the future as we have always done: with courage and a prayer. “But,” you said, “I will keep on fighting.”

There are many who will shed a tear at your passing …none more so than the many, many people you helped in Western Sydney. You collect clothes, shoes …anything that was useful to the needy and you would share it around. You were always thrifty, but it when it came to the needy, you were very generous.
In the end, it was not the Pancreatic Cancer that killed you, but complications developed from that “pain in the stomach” which led to the eventual shutting down of the kidneys.

Our greatest fear was that you would be in pain and suffer an agonising end to your life. You never gave up. The doctors made you comfortable and said the end was imminent … 31 days ago.

You lived your life your way. You grabbed every single moment in the day and made it your own… even though your illness. You were no less a battler in your last days … you astonished your doctors, the specialists, nurses and other medical staff who were amazed how managed to cling on to life for so long … you only left us when you were ready to say goodbye
The last time I got any response from you was on January 17: I was kidding with you and reminding of the days when you and your friends looked so stylish in those bell bottoms, or flared pants, finished off with pastel coloured blouses, your picnics, visits to the movies, etc in Nairobi. And, a tear rolled down your left eye. When you could not speak with your tongue, you spoke with your eyes and your limited gestures. That image of that final tear will live with me forever. Treasured. Always.

Rose’s Blacktown Hospital world

Helen Currow, head of anesthetics at BH

For more than a quarter of a century, the smiling, happy face of Rose Fernandes has been a part of the culture of initially Blacktown Hospital and then Blacktown and Mount Druitt Hospitals.
Rose was well entrenched as department secretary when I became Head of Department too long ago. However, when I was also appointed as Head of Department at Mount Druitt, Rose kindly took me aside and told me that she would not be coming to Mount Druitt with me and asked that I really take care. She never did come to Mount Druitt with me – by that stage we were able to do whatever was necessary by phone and email – but when she made a social visit to the place, she was very much surprised at how friendly everyone was.
Learning was a two-way street for both of us. Yes, I did tell her, “Do it yourself”. She was quick to pick things up and apply them and learning to do things herself made both her job and mine easier. I also learnt from Rose and together we honed methods of accomplishing all that we did together. From when she first worked in the department it was a time of significant growth and Rose was paramount to this.
As a secretary, Rose was just that: a keeper of the secrets. She deduced things from comings and goings from my office, clarified them with me, but never divulged anything. If someone asked for a phone number, unless she knew them well, it was not imparted. A message was taken and passed on.
Rose was a superb negotiator, especially when it came to financial matters whether for the department or for her family. I would have been powerless to resist her in these contests, but we never had to have one.
Rose loved travelling and it was a world that she opened up to Gary. She loved her native Kenya but travelled extensively and perhaps not always as a main-stream traveller, but always befriending someone she met there and being invited into their homes.
Of recent years it was easy for me to wind Rose up by talking about my retirement which she thought should be decades away. I would tell her that I would be in at work next week, but not sure about the week after. Part of her concern was organising my retirement party as well as continuity of departmental management.
Rose had a definite moral compass and did not tolerate those who did not have as high a standard and were not perhaps as careful with the truth as she was.
When her diagnosis came through, she was about to have her bathroom renovated. This had been in the pipeline a long time and I encouraged her to have it so that she could enjoy it for however long she was going to be around. Later, she thanked me for this as she did enjoy it.
Rose took her diagnosis seriously enough, but certainly did not let it get in the way of her joie de vivre. She remained the happy smiling Rose that we had known all along. During her treatments at Westmead she always had plenty of visitors from the staff who had worked at Blacktown and were now supporting her through her new journey. This encouraged her no end and she remained until the end, the happiest cancer patient, an inspiration for all of us.
It has been a pleasure to have known and worked with Rose in all this time and I will well remember all that I have learnt from her.
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Here’s what one of your Blacktown Hospital colleagues had to say: Rose was a part of my every work day. Because my office is right next to her desk I was very lucky to have developed a wonderful working relationship with her over those 12 years. Rose was always wonderfully happy, one was always certain of a chirpy ‘good morning’!

I have certainly missed all of our little daily interactions. She was forever reminding me to have lunch and go home on time! Rose seemed to know when all the morning teas were happening and frequently I would find a little cake or chocolate slice on my desk. She was always thinking of others throughout her day.

Rose was utterly devoted to her job, the anesthetic department, all of the anesthetists, Helen and Alan in particular. She was somewhat the Mother Hen to all of the new doctors making sure that they knew everything that they had to do and making sure they were where they had to be! Many of the consultants here at Blacktown today would have met Rose first as they came for their interviews as registrars.

Being part of the interview process over so many years Rose became quite skilled at predicting who would get a job and who wouldn’t! A few years ago we started testing her accuracy and named the process ‘Rose’s pick’. Before the end of the interview day, Rose would come to me with the list of interviewee’s names placing a mark against those who she thought were good enough for a job at Blacktown!

It seemed that the only time Rose wasn’t at work was when she was on one of her wonderful holidays! We did particularly love talking about those holidays especially the ones to Europe and London. Without fail Rose would bring me back a small gift, so even on holiday, she was thinking about us all back here at Blacktown. She took great delight in giving these gifts to her favourite colleagues upon her return.

Rose’s resilience, fierce determination to have a great life despite the diagnosis has been truly inspiring. Her visits to see us all throughout last year were always wonderful. It was remarkable to see her looking so happy. She would declare often “Emily I am well! I am good, I am not having any problems”.


I will always be grateful for the care given to Rose Bridget during her last month on earth the palliative care unit of the Westmead Hospital. Many thanks to the wonderful nurses and doctors.

I would like to thank her Oncologist at the Westmead Cancer Care Centre Dr Nagrial and his team of registrars, as well as all the nurses and auxiliary staff at the Cancer Care chemotherapy centre. Every one of the nurses in chemotherapy was exceptional, always cheerful, bright as a button, totally committed and caring ... Rose enjoyed your company even if under difficult circumstances.

Also thanks to all your colleagues at Blacktown and Mount Druitt hospital.

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