08 January 2015

The 2 most important things I have learnt

Tomorrow, the 9th of January, is a major anniversary. It will be 40 years since my leg was amputated.


So much has changed for the better over the last 40 years and speaking personally, my whole perception of life, my whole experience of life has changed for the better. But quite a price.

On reflection, the two most important things I have learnt are

1. Life is incredibly precious

2. Life is incredibly fragile

How wonderful for those who while still in good health and without having to be provoked by such a major event like mine, recognise these two facts - how precious life is and how fragile it is - and as a consequence, use their life to full advantage.

Here, from the diary entries of those days as they appeared in my biography The Dragon’s Blessing, I share the letter I wrote to my leg and something of the times.

But first

Thought for the Day

Remembering that you are going to die 

Is the best way I know 
to avoid 

The trap of thinking you have something to lose.

You are already naked.

There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Steve Jobs 

Wednesday, January 8, 1975 — To my leg

How well you have served me for nearly twenty-five years. I remember long treks through the mountains of Gippsland and how you led the way to jump over six-feet-four. That soaring feeling you gave rise to as you swept up into the air, leading the rest of my body into flight. Just the joy of running was so dear. I was fortunate you were so strong and coordinated. 

I guess I shall never again feel my mobility to be normal.

You carry scars of days gone by. Below the knee is a small raised up thickening of skin that reminds me of a tip in Longueville, Sydney. How when a friend had his leg caught in the rubbish, you carried me running half a mile for help and only then let on that you were bleeding so badly. 

On the knee itself is a jagged, ill-defined, purplish scar. A reminder of that foul football match at Sebastopol [near Ballarat] the year before last. It took weeks to get all the gravel out. 

There are two other scars on the lower leg which are reminders of hockey days, flying sticks and pain that was not so easily subdued. More recently there is the bandaged biopsy site and its resultant swelling.

My mind wanders over the many happy times. There are no complaints as the only time you fell short of my expectations was when my pride and ambitions were too great.

That you are to be lost to me in a few hours leaves me feeling empty. I feel drained of feeling. I hope I still go forward with expectation. I am apprehensive and fear I may shrink before the challenge. So melancholy. I must lift my spirits.

Ian spent most of the rest of the day in quiet, melancholic but calm contemplation and redoubled his efforts to meditate in an effort to buoy himself up. Raised as an Anglican he remembered earlier times when repeating the Lord’s Prayer over and over as a twelve- year-old, he had entered the early stages of a meditative state—and it was this technique he returned to once more that day.

He also remembered the advice of Dr Raynor Johnson about meditation from a series of lectures he had given at veterinary school that had made a deep impression on Ian. Johnson had talked of using a mantra, notably the Lord’s Prayer, in repetition as a skillful way to focus the mind and keep it from wandering.

I am repeating the Lord’s Prayer, and with eyes closed, trying to fix my concentration between my eyes and to keep my mind clear. The only thing that has any certainty is the repetition of the Prayer. Most of the time thoughts come bursting in over the top of it, cascading ideas through my head. I am still full of resolve, but the more imperfections I see, the more awesome the task.

The prayer and his journal were his only anchors at a time when many might have dropped into bottomless depths of utter despair, or worse, succumbed to a blind and terrible panic.

Ian remained calm as he was wheeled to his appointment with the surgeons.

I went down to an anaesthetic room where I had to wait about 20 minutes. The delay was good as it gave me time to set my mind at rest and pray for strength. After being transferred from my bed onto a narrower table, a blanket was draped over my surgery gown and I was left to wait.

The room itself was quite narrow and cluttered. My head was at its entrance, my feet pointed towards the operating theatre. At my left stood the anaesthetic machine in all its pseudo complexity. On the walls beside this were benches stacked with intravenous fluids, same as the ones we use. 

Against the opposite wall was a stark bench and cupboard with who knows what in it. From the ceiling hung suspended a huge operating light on articulated beams. There were hinged swinging doors into the operating theatre and, periodically, as people came and went, I caught a glimpse of more lights all focused on the operating table.

Finally my anaesthetist arrived, appearing somewhat apprehensive. I still cannot decide if she was just unsure how to conduct herself with someone who was about to lose a leg or if she was concerned with the technical aspects of the coming procedure . . .

I was soon wheeled into the surgery and manhandled onto the operating table. Then there was much slapping of my left hand by the anaesthetist, presumably to get a vein up. This annoyed me, being quite unpleasant. Anyway, finally we were under way.

I tried to keep meditating and praying as I went under . . .

Mr John Doyle, assisted by Mr Kevin King, amputated Ian’s right leg at the hip. It was barely two weeks after Ian had first realised, on the Bacchus Marsh oval, that something might be seriously awry.

It was a very difficult and long operation,’ says Mr Doyle, now retired, reading from his notes from the operation. The surgery took almost three hours.

‘Most amputations are just below the knee or just above the knee,’ he says. ‘This was through the hip joint. I don’t think I’d ever done a disarticulation through the hip at that stage. These things are pretty uncommon. Kevin had done two, which is why we joined forces.’


The Dragon’s Blessing by Guy Allenby – the official biography

Full details are on the website, click here

Meditation in the Forest        March 27th to April 2nd  2015

During this meditation retreat, we will be focusing upon the deeper stillness of meditation. We will explore the theory, but moreso, the actual practices that help us to go beyond the activity of the thinking mind into a more direct and profound experience of the still mind.

Deep, natural peace. A calm and clear mind. So many possibilities follow…..

FULL DETAILS Click here 


CANCER and BEYOND  May 2015   Monday 4th at 11am to Friday 8th at 2pm

Five Day Residential Follow-up Program at the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley

This program is specifically designed for those with cancer along with their support people who have attended a previous Gawler Foundation program or equivalent such as with Sabina Rabold, CSWA, Cancer Care SA, CanLive NZ, or with the Gawlers

A unique opportunity to meet with like-minded people once again, to consolidate what you already know, to learn more from the combined knowledge, experience and wisdom of Ian and Ruth, to reaffirm your good intentions, and to go home refreshed and revitalised.