Saving Zali by Lisa Venables – Extract

Saving Zali


I sprinted through the Gosford Hospital car park with my toddler Zali in my arms. My eleven-year-old son Lachlan, Zali’s half-brother, tried to keep up with me, confused and out of breath. I waited impatiently for the doors of Emergency to open. It was just after lunch on Saturday 2 May 2009, the start of winter.

The Emergency waiting room was busy. It smelt of alcohol, sweat, poverty, musty old person and vomit. There were kids crying and adults whingeing. Lots of people with sports-related injuries were waiting to be treated.

The nurse in triage was shocked by my appearance and stopped what she was doing.

‘What’s wrong?’ she said.

I started sobbing. ‘My neighbour is a paediatric nurse and she told me to bring Zali to the hospital right away. She’s had fevers every four hours that don’t seem to be related to anything, and for the last ten days she’s had this rash on her hand. I think something’s really wrong.’

I showed the triage nurse the pale red spots on the palms of Zali’s hands. That seemed to be all the information she needed. She took me in straight away. She got a brief history from me, looked at the cradle cap on Zali’s head, the nappy rash in her groin and her swollen belly. I told her we had seen two paediatricians because Zali was constantly sick but that nobody could work out what was wrong. She just nodded and I felt like she knew something I didn’t. I wanted to grab her by her thin cotton shirt and shake her until her head wobbled. Until she told me. Until she fixed it.

‘Just fix it!’ I wanted to scream into her helpful face.

We were taken around the corner into the children’s section of the Emergency Department, where happy murals are painted on the walls and there is not so much medical equipment on display. A young friendly nurse came over and told me she would need to take a blood sample from Za. We had done a few of them lately at various pathology places but none of the tests had been able to identify what was wrong. I knew from those experiences that it was very hard to take a sample from Za as she was constantly dehydrated.

I wrapped her up tightly in a blanket like a newborn, except for one arm. I cradled her against my body and held her arm out for sacrifice. The lovely nurse took a long time and a lot of jabs before she could find a vein to take a sample from. It was awful. Zali screamed and twisted and cried. She begged me with her eyes to help her and tried to cling to me and pull away from the nurse but couldn’t because the blanket bound her. I was distressed and started crying too as I tried to reassure Zali that it was okay and it would be finished soon.

The nurse was dissatisfied with the amount of blood she could get for the sample, saying it was very sticky and she couldn’t get much. I didn’t know what that meant. Wasn’t blood supposed to be sticky? I wasn’t going to let her have another go at it and I told her so. That was the bottom line for me. This was hurting Zali too much. They would have to find a different way to work out what was wrong.

Shortly after, a doctor came and told me that because we had seen the paediatrician Dr De Courcy privately and he was on call that day, they would wait for him to talk to me about the blood test results. I was impressed that they could already tell what was wrong with just a blood test but was annoyed they weren’t telling me. I assumed that because they were waiting for Dr De Courcy it wasn’t anything urgent and he would be able to sort it out.

We had seen Dr De Courcy about eight months earlier, while our usual paediatrician had been on holiday. Dr De Courcy had ordered blood tests and the results had pointed to leukaemia. At the same time, Zali became very ill, so he admitted her to Gosford Hospital straight away. Not long after arrival at the hospital we were transferred back to our original paediatrician, who had now returned from holidays, and he didn’t think leukaemia was an accurate diagnosis. He thought it was lactose intolerance and gave Za enough blood transfusions to bring her results back to normal. We were grateful to be off the hook so didn’t push it any further.

Perplexed and feeling a little condescended to, I settled Zali down for a rest in my arms while Lachie became glued to the TV. My screaming fear had settled to a gnawing concern that was manageable. The staff appeared to be putting Zali’s story together with the information they had gathered from the blood test. Breathing deeply, I tried to calm myself.

We were put into a room for ‘privacy’ and I wondered what we needed so much privacy for. I didn’t care if people recognized me as a cop there. I could handle myself. My acerbic tongue usually did most of the hard work.

The room was a generous size, with several chairs for Lachie, me and Andrew, my husband, Zali’s father, who had now arrived from some medical appointments of his own in Sydney. Andrew was a bit flustered. It had been a long drive from Sydney to get back home as quickly as he could, and it had been hard to find a parking spot. We thought we would find out what was wrong then go home, so he had taken a place in one-hour parking.

We both had that horrible underlying feeling that something was wrong but tried to convince ourselves that surely it couldn’t be too bad. The door of the room had been closed but the nurses kept looking at us through its large glass pane. Lots of nurses observed us through the window. Something was up. I questioned everyone who came close to us about what they knew. Only one nurse answered, and she told me they had the results of the blood test but would wait until Dr De Courcy spoke to us.

Another Emergency Department doctor came and talked to us, asking about Zali’s symptoms. We went through the list of problems. As we did, I tried to identify from his words and facial expression the magnitude of the problem. It was part of my job to assess what people were thinking or going to do. I was pretty good at it. I couldn’t tell what this man was thinking, though. He showed polite interest in Zali’s rashes and her lack of sleep but was very interested in her problems with thrush and colds. Colds didn’t seem to be a big deal to me; the lack of sleep was more difficult. A steady stream of doctors came to look at her after that, each one with a careful poker face. Nobody really examined her closely, or touched her. We questioned them. They questioned us.

Finally, Dr De Courcy came into the room. Another doctor and a nurse flanked him. I was irritated. None of them shook my hand. I could see that the other doctor was here to learn how ‘this’ was done. I didn’t want to be a learning exercise. They should have had more respect for me than that. What was ‘this’? It was a bit unfair that they knew what was wrong with my daughter and I didn’t. I just wanted him to tell me so I could go. Stop being so dramatic and get to the point. We were sitting down. I stood up as he entered. I was keen to push him to answer me.

He told me to sit and I did.

Dr De Courcy is a nerdy-looking guy. He is tall, with a medium build, grey curly hair and a large nose. He’s also very pale, probably because he spends a lot of time in the hospital. He wears glasses and looks at the floor a lot, which makes him look like he’s thinking or listening. When he talks he raises his head only slightly. This time he looked up through the top of his glasses. He seemed soft, but as we learnt, he is familiar with dealing in the tough stuff. He is much stronger and harder and more insightful than I then gave him credit for.

He looked me straight in the eyes, and didn’t flinch with the directness of this approach. Usually, I took this to mean an offender was thinking about attacking me. I braced myself. My breathing quickened. Adrenalin pumped. I was ready to jump up and take action.

He began, ‘As you know, last time I saw Zali I thought she had leukaemia.’

I nodded, as there was no chance to forget that horrible week eight months earlier. I started blathering information to Dr De Courcy. I could feel a large storm cloud gathering and I didn’t want it to rain on us.

‘The low blood counts were because of the blood in her poo caused by intolerance to cow’s milk. The nappy rash was nothing to worry about and the cradle cap comes back sometimes but goes away again. Maybe it was just a form of eczema or something.’

He pressed on, unfazed by my attempt to divert him. ‘Well, I think Zali has leukaemia. She’s very unwell. Her blood counts are extremely low. She has nearly no blood to take for a sample. She’s very dehydrated and has no immunity at all. You’ll need to start treatment immediately. I’ll transfer her to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead today.’

I asked him what that meant. How sick was she? Leukaemia? He told me she was extremely sick. During the next twentyfour hours to six weeks we would see which direction this would go.

‘Twenty-four hours?’

He looked me straight in the eye again and said, ‘Yes. Twenty-four hours. She’s very sick. If she does live, the treatment over the next six weeks will tell us which direction this is going to go.’

‘Fuck,’ I whispered.

My stomach dropped like I had plummeted down a track on a roller-coaster. I sighed one big ‘Oh no’ and deflated further into my chair.

Andrew groaned, ‘Oh God, no, no, no, no,’ and his large, strong shoulders shook with sobs. I felt grief well up in my ribs and throat in a giant moan. I held Andrew’s hand and we cried while Zali lay wrapped up in my arms asleep and Lachlan stood next to us confused. I had to explain to Lachlan what this meant. ‘It’s cancer, honey. She might not be alive tomorrow.’ He started to cry too as I wrapped my other arm around his skinny hips and pulled him in for a hug.

The doctors left us alone. We needed some privacy.

On Saturday 2 May 2009, Zali was eighteen months old and we only had twenty-four hours left with her.

Chapter 1

After finishing my Bachelor of Arts, I joined the NSW Police in 2000 to get out of Canberra, where I grew up. I had failed the public service test and wasn’t qualified in any career as such. Policing is a family trade and so it was an obvious second choice.

My beloved grandad Neville was the first officer to create the Queensland Drug and Alcohol Testing Unit, using his previous experience as a chemical engineer to get it started. His grandfather, Detective Albert Jesse Merry, created the Naval Intelligence Unit during World War I, which was later divided into Naval Internal Affairs and Naval Intelligence. He then went on to become Staff Sergeant in the Canadian Military Police specialising in undercover work and intelligence. Albert Jesse’s grandfather was a lock-up keeper in England. (Lock-up keepers are police who live in a town and agree to be available all the time.) My dad has a law degree, my mum was a civilian in the Queensland Police, and my cousin is married to a police officer in Queensland. Law and the pursuit of criminals runs in my family.

It was not that big a deal to join up, though my grandma was upset. She wondered how I could balance being a police officer with being a single mother of Lachlan, then two. It was a fair point. She also thought I could do better. My mother was not surprised and was glad I had at least picked a career.

My first ever shift was the night of the opening ceremony for the Sydney Olympics, 15 September 2000. We had been called to a brawl on the street. As we attended, a man who had taken ecstasy and had been watching the brawl had a heart attack. We performed CPR on him immediately while we waited for the ambos to arrive. It didn’t work and he died. From that first shift on, the work was always intense.

I met Andrew, a fellow police officer, in December 2000 at the start of a hot summer. The night I met him he had pursued a stolen vehicle after observing the driver selling drugs. The pursuit had crossed Parramatta Road, Camperdown, and come into Leichhardt, which was my area. By the time my partner and I caught up with the excitement, the stolen car had crashed because its wheels had fallen off. The vehicle was full of money and drugs, and I helped Andrew count it and put it into exhibit bags. How romantic.

I liked Andrew immediately. He was a solid, tanned, hardworking man. He had a level of honesty about him that made me trust him, and we bonded over our children from previous relationships. He was from Cooma, where his mum, dad and sister still lived. His two girls, Kala and Danni, from his first marriage, still lived there too, with their mum. My own family had spread out from Queensland, where my mum lived, to Melbourne, where my two brothers lived. I didn’t speak with my father any more, and I lived alone with Lachie. On my working days Lach went to his dad’s and I had him on days off. Andrew and I both loved the inner city and the eastern beaches life we enjoyed with our friends. We started dating soon after we met.

Gradually, though, over the next year and a half, just like that stolen car, the wheels on Andrew’s life began to get wobbly then fall off.

While working in Newtown, over a period of about six months, Andrew was first shot at by someone with a shotgun, then six weeks later nearly stabbed in the back by a broken beer bottle. Both escapes had been simply through pure luck and they stripped him of his feeling of safety.

After these incidents his working life fell into an unfortunate pattern that happens to police sometimes. In every shift for fifteen consecutive shifts, one of his jobs involved a deceased person. He was labelled with the nickname of Dr Death, and no amount of rest days or leave seemed to be able to shake this dark cloud following him.

Andrew is a beautiful, soft-hearted, country-raised family man. This ugly turn of events began to break him.

Seeking to escape his run of bad luck, he applied for and won a lock-up keeper job in the small country town of Crookwell, so Lach, Andrew and I moved there. I took the opportunity to do some further study in criminal intelligence while working at the Goulburn Police College. Once there, though, Andrew started to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and all the complications that go with it, but at the time we didn’t know what was wrong.

Andrew started drinking heavily to self-medicate, which brought with it a myriad of miserable problems. It wasn’t unusual for him to drink for twelve hours straight. He thought he was funny and jovial while he was drunk, but when he came down from the sugar high, he was an arsehole. We broke up and got back together, broke up and got back together. We got engaged and broke up and then got married.

We married on 22 January 2005 in 40-degree heat. The wedding was beautiful, at a historic house nearby, and our children were our bridal party. The reception at the golf club was huge, and our guests drank the town dry of rum as a cracking thunderstorm broke the heatwave. A local band played until 3 am and let Andrew have a go at the drums and sing ‘Eagle Rock’ for the last number. He had no previous singing or drumming experience but he didn’t let this hold him back. What he lacked in skill he made up for with enthusiasm. It was a lot of fun and to this day people still talk about it in town.

The amount of police work in the country was lower, but the work itself was equally heavy. It included dealing with all the problems of the city as well as rural crime. There were a lot more car accidents, mostly involving high-speed crashes on country roads that resulted in serious injury or death on impact. Some of them involved children. One time Andrew had to help the short-staffed mortician with a child’s autopsy.

There were also violent domestics, drug houses, paedophiles and constant drunken brawls. He was often on his own, and his hyper-vigilance became worse.

Eventually things ground to a halt. There was no aspect of our life that was working well. We didn’t know what was wrong but we knew life shouldn’t be this hard.

Thank goodness for Ernie, a seasoned police officer other police trusted. He often relieved in Crookwell as a sergeant, but had been a senior constable for so long that a promotion would have meant a pay cut. Man to man, during a quiet moment in the office, Ernie asked Andrew how he was coping. Andrew told him how he was feeling and Ernie said, ‘Mate, you’ve gotta get on the head wobblers, get your missus and get outta here.’ He meant, that Andrew should get medication and leave town.

He told Andrew he had PTSD, that it couldn’t be fixed on its own and that it needed medical intervention. He said it was common in the police force; the symptoms were very predictable.

Post-traumatic stress disorder was the great unspoken in the police at that time. Every officer I knew had worked with someone who was past their use-by date and was demonstrating obvious signs of high stress. Policing is a tough job, especially general duties policing which responds to 000 phone calls. It requires a hardness of mind and the ability to think and respond quickly to changing situations. It’s physical, dynamic and dangerous. There is no space for softer emotions because those soft emotions will get you hurt physically and emotionally. It wouldn’t take much for the despair for humankind to overwhelm an officer and literally send them crazy.

Andrew and I both knew of a few police who had put their hands up and said ‘My life is not working, something is wrong’. In general, other police and immediate supervisors were sympathetic, thinking ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. But unfortunately the management levels above direct supervisors and peers were problematic in trying to get assistance and there was a lot of red tape wrapped tightly around the systems that was meant to help.

Post-traumatic stress is expensive to fix and also the hole left in staffing numbers posed a problem. It was hard to convince the powers that be that the officer needed time away from work, with whatever support they needed, for as long as it took, to get well. If the officer could not get well, it was even more difficult to convince higher levels of management to let them go.

It was easy for an officer whose mind was beaten and bruised from facing trauma for too long, to imagine that once the boss

said ‘No’, there was no other avenue for help. Once before Andrew and I had asked for help and an inspector came to our house. They told Andrew to suck it up, there was no one who could replace him that night and that he had to go back to work. By the time we had a name for what was wrong, we were simply so beaten, we didn’t think there was anything we could do.

After Ernie talked to Andrew, we worked out an escape plan. During the time we were in Crookwell I had completed a Graduate Certificate in Criminal Intelligence, which built on my previous experience working in police intelligence in Sydney. I applied for an advertised intelligence officer position at State Crime Command (SCC) Drug Squad back in Parramatta, Sydney. The focus of State Crime Command is organised crime, specialised crime and criminal techniques, and large-scale and commercial-scale crime. They deal with jobs that are too big for a station to manage. It is a very high-status, high-stakes command to work in. As there aren’t a lot of formally qualified intelligence officers in the police, I knew I had a good chance of winning the spot and getting us out of Crookwell. I needed State Crimes’ power to pull us free.

Thankfully, within a couple of weeks after a face-to-face interview, I won the job, and State Crime pulled me back to Sydney. It was our big break, and I grabbed it with both hands and ran.

Once back in Sydney, Andrew began to work at North Sydney Police Station while I worked in SCC Drug Squad. We didn’t ask for help for the PTSD. We didn’t think anyone would believe us and even if they did, we didn’t think we would be supported by management. Luckily, North Sydney was a quiet station and Andrew’s condition wasn’t being aggravated.

We started trying for a baby and I fell pregnant straight away. We bought a house and moved into the close-knit neighbourhood of Kincumber on the NSW Central Coast, four minutes’ drive from Avoca Beach. It was just like living on Ramsey Street from Neighbours. We made close friends with our neighbours immediately. Lachlan started playing rugby with the Avoca Sharks and settled into coastal living perfectly, particularly enjoying time on the beach or riding his bike on the street with his friends next door.

On 3 November 2007, Zali was born and our household was on a high. Andrew decided on the name – he just liked it. I preferred Daisy or Poppy, but I let Andrew choose. We all adored bubby Za Za. She united us and brought tenderness and hope to our home.

At the start of 2008, life became super-busy, but I was still on maternity leave, so with a bit of organisation at the start we managed it. Kala, Andrew’s eldest from his first marriage, moved in with us to begin Year 10 at Brent Street, an exclusive dance school. She commuted each day from the coast to Sydney and was a dedicated and focused student.

Zali seemed to suffer from endless minor health problems. I was taking her to the GP a lot, and was constantly wiping her runny nose and trying to catch up on sleep. Life became very challenging on my reduced maternity-leave pay. There was never enough money or time or patience to spread around our growing family and their various needs. Andrew began to struggle with PTSD again but my time off ended quickly and I couldn’t stay at home any longer and take care of everyone because we needed my pay. When Za was seven months old I returned to work at the Drug Squad.

We were very lucky with child care. Za had family day care a couple of days a week with the lovely Carissa in her home. Carissa and Za adored each other and of course Zali was her favourite out of the five children she cared for there. I asked her not to tell me if Za started talking at child care because I wanted to feel like I was the first to hear it. After lots of verbalising and copying tones she started to speak quite early, at about ten months old. Once she got the hang of it, Za’s favourite word was ‘broccoli’. She loved to sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ with Carissa, wiggling her fingers to the song and belting out ‘chinkle chinkle widdle tar’ while rocking with verve in time with the music. She also loved to sing ‘Ginger bars, ginger bars, ginger ore da way’ to the jingle bells theme. There was no convincing her that there were any other words to the tune.

I suspect she took her first steps there, because she got so much practice moving, but I was grateful Carissa didn’t tell me that as well. Za’s favourite daycare activity was to ride around on a little bike with jungle-themed animals on the front. She loved the independence and was really quick on it, going as fast as she could across floorboards in the hallway at Carissa’s and using the wall to stop with a bang. She thought the sudden finish to Carissa’s high-speed chase after her was very funny, which made it all the more enticing. Carissa couldn’t bring herself to be too stern with Za about the crash-landing because Za was so soft-hearted she would get very upset if Carissa wasn’t happy about something.

Za enjoyed painting so long as she didn’t get paint on her hands, which didn’t impress her at all. She would silently hold her hands up to Carissa, waiting for the problem to be resolved. Her favourite snack was hummus and rice crackers, and any other child who tried to steal them would be met with a strong stare indicating the rudeness of such an act. Madame was not amused.

Carissa was a dedicated child carer. She felt that although Za was thriving, there was something wrong with the constant colds. It niggled at her, the same way it niggled at me. We’d seen lots of doctors in the course of Za’s short life. I would go to the GP, who would diagnose various symptoms as viral. The problems would continue so I would persist and see the paediatrician who would say it was an allergy, or eczema, or a bug, or general poor health. He would take various samples and send them to further specialists who couldn’t tell us what was wrong without further testing. We would see the specialists and their testing would be inconclusive. More often than not we were told it was one virus or another and that it would pass.

But it bothered me. It really bothered me, so I kept taking Za back to the specialists. Carissa knew Za well and it bothered her too.

I would drop Za and Lach off to Carissa’s in the morning on my way to work and Lach would stay there for an hour or so then walk to school nearby. This meant that Andrew could come and go from his shiftwork without worrying too much about child care. He would usually pick up Za and Lach after school, and I’d pick up Kala from the train station as I came home from work. I’d get home and tag with Andrew, who would leave to start a night shift. Day shifts were trickier, but somehow, through blind luck, juggling work hours and child care, we managed it.

As Za grew older, life on the coast on sunny days when I didn’t have to work meant the beach, the garden, our neighbours’ and barbecues. The kids would paddle around in the baby pool or bodysurf under the watchful eyes of local volunteer lifesavers. There was always a sausage sizzle going that was fundraising for a local cause. The air smelt like bacon and caramelised balsamic vinegar from the cafe, and salt and seaweed. Zali should have looked like a sausage she ate so many of them. She was particularly fond of them if they were covered in generous amounts of sauce. Constantly chasing the waves back and forth on the shoreline afterwards, though, quickly worked off all that food.

The surf was mesmerising, big or flat. We always saw someone we knew to talk to, and we could take the dog down for a social visit too. Lunch was bread rolls with fresh ham and cheese at home on the deck, trying to both enjoy the sun and not get burnt.

In the afternoons, after Za’s 45-minute sleep, Za and Lach would play on the street, which is a double-ended cul-de-sac. They would ride their bikes, play soccer, play 44 home, and we would talk with the parents on the corner as we watched the children, whiling the afternoon away.

There was always a kind-hearted older child who would hold Za’s chubby hand while she took her wobbly steps trying to keep up with the rest of the running children. Za was tall for her age like her brother. Though she wasn’t fat by a long shot, she was strong and her legs were long and lean. Her skin was the colour of a light tan, a perfect medium between her olive dad and her pale mum. She had blonde wispy hair and eyes that were the blue of the bright sky on a summer morning. Lachie has eyes that are pale blue like the midday sky in summer. Kala has eyes that are blue like the deep ocean.

Tyla, seven years older, would always hold Za’s hand and hide with her in the street-wide hide-and-seek games so that she wasn’t the first to be found every time. It never worked, because Za couldn’t stand the anticipation and would jump out and say ‘yah’ when the seeker came close, or she’d say ‘Where’s Zali gone?’ loudly to help them. Za counting to ten consisted of three random numbers being repeated until she got bored, or her watching where everyone was going then following anyway, so poor old Tyla would volunteer to count instead.

Liam, also seven years older, was Za’s favourite by far. She would sit on the road at the corner of the street with her perfect upright posture, long legs out in a V in front of her, and Liam would sit opposite her and roll a soccer ball back and forth between them. She thought it was hilarious if she pushed the ball a bit harder than usual and he would roll backwards dramatically when it reached him. She would giggle with thrilled anticipation waiting for it to come back so she could roll it again. For her first birthday he gave her his favourite floppy dog soft toy, and she slept with it every night, carefully crooning to it and patting it before she went to sleep.

We worked on improving our simple home. I would spend hours in the garden, putting in new vegie seedlings and plants, mowing the newly laid lawn, weeding and spreading sweetsmelling tea-tree mulch. Za loved being a ‘nudie rudie’ in the dappled sunlight of our backyard during the summer heat, and splashing about in the plastic clamshell baby pool. We have plenty of photos of a cute little bottom enjoying the sunshine.

When it rained, I would watch it roll over the hill and come racing towards us through the valley and national park. It could be hours and hours of light, floating drizzle or quick blasts of heavy tropical rain, which could fill up our rainwater tank immediately. As soon as she was able to move herself, first through crawling, then walking, Za’s favourite thing to do inside, especially on rainy days, was to pull out her books and ‘read’ them to herself, or bring them to someone who would read them to her. Lach copped many hard-edged book corners to the eyebrow when he ignored her request. She didn’t take no for an answer very well.

Work was intense and I could never completely relax at home because of it, but I did enjoy it. It suited my personality and I had achieved the fine balance of meeting bosses’ expectations and keeping my head low to stay out of trouble. Mostly. The roster was okay most of the time and my workmates were good most of the time. I had a pretty solid outer hardness that could make me fairly uncompromising, which wasn’t a great quality to have under stress at home, but in general the balance was good. I can honestly say that I liked general duties and did laugh a lot. The work hours were always too many and the risks too high inside and outside of work, but it was good.

Our life was full of making a little bit of money go as far as possible, socialising in our community, and nurturing our family and home life. It was full of colours, seasons, varied temperatures, pelicans flying on warm air currents, the sound of rain in the tank, people we liked, people we avoided, the smell of the beach, the smell of our fruit trees. It was a full, multifaceted life.

One morning Andrew came home from his night shift as we were all getting ready for school, child care and work. He should have been exhausted and ready for bed but instead he was wide awake and shocked. He looked pale and spoke almost robotically. He told me about an arrest he had been involved in the night before that had nearly gone very badly wrong. It was only pure chance that it hadn’t. I let him talk as he sat down for breakfast and a cup of tea. He talked continuously for about an hour, needing the constant reassurance of my support and a chance to calm down. When he finally finished shaking and some colour had returned to his face, he went to bed.

After he went to bed, I called myself in sick and Andrew in sick for the next shift that night. We had reached the end of our ability to cope with PTSD without help. Though I didn’t know exactly what we could do or what help was available I called the Police Association and spoke to a wonderful woman, Sarah, who had all the answers and support we needed. The Police Association were the only people who would be able to stand between management and us so that Andrew could get help. It was obvious to her that Andrew had PTSD and was no longer fit to work for the police. Sarah told me how to apply formally for stress leave due to PTSD. They organised all the forms and leave. When Andrew woke up that afternoon I told him what I had done. While he had slept I had quit his job for him. He was very grateful and slept well that night for the first time in years.

The combined effect of therapy, exercise, meditation and medication on Andrew cannot be overstated. Over the next few months he went to therapy sessions, sometimes five days a week, and he was able to rebuild himself gradually. The Andrew I got out of the rubble of ten years’ hard policing was a beautiful, kind man. He was gentle and loving. He was proud of me and our family, and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for us. He was soft-hearted and kind to his children and to Lach. His resilience under any pressure or stress was gone, though, and like anyone who has suffered a serious injury, most of his time was dedicated to recovery.

As Andrew recuperated, he was able to look after Zali for one of my three days of work as we couldn’t afford three days’ day care now that he wasn’t working. The other two days she continued to go to Carissa. It was really difficult for him to look after Za, especially when she was sick or had fevers, but it was satisfying for him at the same time. She loved it when he put her on the bench and she could watch as he got the radio going through the computer. He would pick her up and dance with her around the kitchen and she would giggle until she couldn’t catch her breath. She would sing along to the music at the top of her voice, making up the words and terribly off-key, but she loved it.

She also loved him filling up the sink with cold water so she could sit on the side and put her feet in, enjoying the varied splashes of anything she could throw into the water, thinking it especially hilarious if the splashes hit her daddy and he jumped with faked surprise. He was a wonderful daddy to her, and they formed a very close bond. Back then nobody could ever have imagined that our bubbly baby might be taken from us by something as insidious as cancer. She was so loved. Surely that love should have protected her.

Excerpted from Saving Zali by Lisa Venables. Copyright © 2014 by Lisa Venables.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


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