Three years ago today (Australia Day 2011) I received the telephone call that I had never given a smidgen of a thought of ever happening.
It went something like this:
Hi, It’s D….. (my sister’s partner)
How are you? He had never rung me to say ‘Hello”. Though I was a little wary I didn’t jump to any conclusions.
I’m ok, what about you?
I’m okay. But I have some bad news. I later realised he was just stunned and shattered.
Fiona died yesterday. D….. had apparently tried calling me the day before but didn’t leave any messages. My sister and I lived in different States.
Yes, that was about it. Today, I can still pretty much hear the exact conversation on permanent replay in my head.
From then on, the tears welled up and I just cried FOREVER.
I was very close to my sister, and had only spoken to her the night before her death (thankfully). She was chirpy, and looking forward to having the next day off work. She had opened a beautiful French inspired gift shop a couple of years earlier, and was having her normal day off, whilst one of her casual assistants held the fort.
I am not sure what was worse – hearing this news for the first time, or flying down to Melbourne that day to break the news to my mum. D…. wanted to wait till I got there to tell her together and I thought it probably best. It was heart wrenching.
I have mentioned in a couple of past posts that my sister had passed away. But I have never mentioned how, till today. It still seems very surreal, but I decided to write about it because you just never know what is around the corner. Life is so precious and so fragile. And nothing is permanent.
When anyone asks about how Fiona has passed away, the most common questions are:
‘Was it cancer?‘ No.
‘Had she been sick?’ No.
The cause: Jack jumper ant anaphylaxis
And the most common reaction to this is: Shock, followed by
I’ve never heard of it.’
‘I didn’t know this sort of thing could happen.’
My sister went gardening. Yes, that simple. She did know she lived in an area where Jumper jack ants (or Jack jumper ants) inhabited and, I found out later, that she had often cautioned her partner about being careful, and to always wear long sleeve shirts, and long pants when working in the garden. Jumper Jack ants are known for their sting, and on the rare occasion, cause death.
When her partner returned from work later that day, he found her lying beside the back door in the kitchen. She had been ‘gone’ for hours. Later that night, D….. was contacted by the shop assistant. She enquired as to how Fiona was feeling. She told D…… she had rung Fiona earlier that day about some order queries, but Fiona cut her short, stating that she had just been bitten by a jumper jack ant and wasn’t feeling well. And was going to lie down.
This is probably what happened next (if you prefer not to read on, as it is a little distressing, that is okay). The following is taken from: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2011/03/16/3165552.htm
Professor Simon Brown, head of the Centre for Clinical Research in Emergency Medicine in WA, has studied the ants [jumper jack] since his post graduate days.
People reacting to venom will first experience a faster heart rate and feel flushed, Professor Brown explains.
‘Next the blood vessels dilate so that the blood goes to the wrong areas. That means that less blood is going to the heart. The heart reacts by very beating slowly.’
‘Blood pressure drops, people lose consciousness and a sudden cardiac arrest results. Combine that with a swelling around the airway and people are in double jeopardy.’
Again, Professor Brown stresses that for most people, “the good news” is that they will experience only a mild reaction.
The bad news – my sister didn’t. Not this time. Mum later told me that Fiona had been bitten a few times before on the legs and little swellings had formed.
The coroner’s report confirmed our suspicions.
I am not going to elaborate any more as I can hardly focus with the tears that have welled up in my eyes, spilling down my face. I will always have questions that cannot be answered. I just have to let them go: A few months prior to her passing, Fiona’s Doctor prescribed tablets for high blood pressure, but she had a very bad reaction. Maybe she had a weak heart. Who knows?
Even now, as it will always be, it is surreal. If my sister rang me now and said ‘Hello, it’s Fiona’, I wouldn’t think anything of it. Just think she’d forgotten to ring me for a while. She was like that.
I miss her terribly. Her life was just snatched away. The fingers of death must have laid waiting whilst she pottered in the garden. There is still a hole in my heart. Sometimes, a soft veil protects it – just a little. But today, the wound has opened, and it is weeping.
When my sister went out to weed, she didn’t know that would be her last day. Nobody did. I really thought we would grow old together, sitting in cafes, sipping on lattes, and nattering.
Please go to your loved ones. Give them a squishy hug and just hold them close. Tell them that you love them.
R.I.P my dear sister.
29.06.1959 – 25.01.2011 Died at 51 years young.
For more information (if you are interested):
The jack jumper ant, hopper ant, jumper ant or jumping jack, Myrmecia pilosula, is a species of bull ant that is native to Australia. The ants are recorded throughout the country, but are most often found in Tasmania, rural Victoria, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and the Adelaide Hills of South Australia.
Please keep safe.