When I was about 20 years old I was working on a farm just outside the township of Shepparton in Northern Victoria. I was working hard and living in a tent at the edge of an orchard of pears perched beside a rusted out old tractor. The days were long. When you’re picking pears you have to start before the sun which meant getting on the tractor at 5am.
I noticed a sore had developed on my chest but it didn’t become a problem until the third day. I began to work but it was just too painful. I went over to the farmer and told him. Mark was 5 foot nothing but compensated for his lack of height with volume and foul language. He was used to telling people what to do and they did it. He advised me in colourful detail that I was very lazy and said to get back to work. I showed him the sore on my chest and it silenced him immediately. He just started nodding and agreed that I should go to the doctor. I was living in a tent with no proper bathroom or mirror. So Mark’s reaction was the first real cause for my concern.
I went to the doctor, he had a look and said he wanted to operate on it. I asked how much it was gonna cost and he explained a few hundred dollars. A few hundred dollars which I didn’t have. I know now that I could have just driven on to the hospital and they probably would’ve just done it for free. But noone told me that and I had no money. I had to work. So the doc gives me some antibiotics. I asked him for some tips. Cause this was before internet was everywhere. You can probably learn how to do surgery on youtube now. I headed back home to my tent on the farm to operate.
My bathroom was a temporary builders portaloo with a tiny cracked mirror and a miniature hand basin. I had some scissors, paper towels, a knife and some rum. I disinfected everything best as possible and prepared my chest for the blade. Now squinting into mirror I could see it was the size of half a mango on my chest. Something like a boil had formed on the bottom of it. That seemed like the best entry point so I lanced it with the blade. Outrageous amounts of pus flowed like lava from the incision. At the start I didn’t even have to touch it. It flowed freely. I gently massaged from up near my collar bone and more flowed out until it stopped. Now I could tell there was more in there but something was blocking it. I tilted my head straight down but the angle wasn’t enough to see clearly. I leaned in close to the mirror in an attempt to see more clearly and to my horror I could see a small white… something… I pinched at it. Then pulled. I could feel it sliding down under my skin from up near my collar bone. I paused in terror. I was having trouble believing what was happening. I didn’t think this was even possible. I considered all my options and resolved that, whatever this was, I had to get it out of me. No-one else was gonna do it for me. I stood back up and slowly continued to pull this parasite from my chest. I don’t wanna ruin pasta for you but it looked like fettuccine. I got what I thought was all of it out. I disinfected and cleaned everything. Then popped the Flucloxacillin the doctor had prescribed and passed out. The next day I felt strong as an ox. I went and worked a full day and doubled my usual quota. The antibiotics seemed to be working well and I felt great. Until 2 weeks later it grew back.
I went back to the doctor and relayed what had happened. He didn’t inspire much confidence. I remember wondering if he was a real doctor. He was so short his feet barely touched the ground as he sat in his doctors chair. I remember the white in his eyes were intensely contrasted and against his dark skin and furrowed brow as I told him what I did. I finished and he slowly nodded and in thick accent queried, “so was it wrrrrigling??”. I searched his face for humour yet found none.
He then says I need to tell my friend and ask him to come here. I wait and this guy rocks up who looks like Bill Gates cousin. He’s about 6 foot 2 all elbows and knees with a pair of magnifying glasses on his face. I tell the story yet again. This doctor tells me, “a branch has snapped off in my chest while I was working and my body “cocooned” it and healed over it. Then I clarify with, “yeh nah, that didn’t happen” but he continued to argue with me. I was starting to think if this is the best help I’m gonna get then I’m toast. I say, “well then shall we cut it out and have a look see hey?”. They both said they didn’t want to do it. So I ask them to hook me up with some tools so I can do it DIY again.
They hand me one of those operating trays with all those clean little torture devices and there I am operating on myself again. I cut a bit more of this worm thing out and the short doctor opens up a plastic medical container and I dropped it in. The plan was to send it to a university in Melbourne to get it analysed. I get another prescription of antibiotics and hope to God I had got the last of it out. The next day I feel great. A few days later I moved onto another orchard to harvest golden delicious apples. On this farm, I had a run down old cottage to stay in. The first night I lay down on the bed and thought that the hum of the electricity was unusually loud. But as I lay there in the dark I realised the building had never had electricity. The hum was, in fact, a hive of bees nested in the wall which was confirmed after a few bees landed on me through the night. I ended up sleeping in my car.
Sure enough, 2 weeks later it started growing back again. The results came back from the university “inconclusive”. I had some money together by this time and started to head back to Brisbane. It was excruciating having the seatbelt press over the wound. Every bump would send a wave of poison through my blood. A friend was in Sydney at the time I was driving through. He let me stay there the night. I thought this is my opportunity to finally get this thing once and for all. I took my shirt off and my friend asks me if I had been shot. He wasn’t joking. I explained to him what had happened so far. I got a butter knife and slipped it in. Then I got another knife and scraped the rest of whatever the thing was out. I slept on an actual bed that night for the first time in a long time.
The next day I drove to Brisbane. After returning home I went to the hospital and spoke to a doctor there. She examined it and said she thought it was staphylococcus. It had started to heal over and you couldn’t really tell anymore. So we’ll never know for sure what it really was…