Category Archives: can you believe it…

Lazarus Syndrome inspires comic short story

Return from the dead: read a fictional short story about a true-life medical condition

Belinda Janz
DEAR Aunty Jo,
This last fortnight has been such an emotional rollercoaster ride that I have decided to write this letter as we can hardly believe it. Really, it’s too much to relay to the Captain of your ship.
As you know now, Mum passed away Monday two weeks ago while visiting her doctor.

She had been saying for some months she felt it was time to move on and I had taken to passing off her feelings as just old-age thoughts. Mum had been so well for so long that it seemed strange that she should even think she was about to die. Initially, I looked for signs and asked her doctor if there was anything I had not been told about but the doctor only supported my idea that, the older you get, it is natural to think that any day you could die.

At 68-years-old Mum was still well enough to live here at home. She moved into rooms downstairs without any fuss after Dad passed away last year saying she wanted her space and it was her time now; after all, if I wanted her, she was only a walk down the stairs away. Nothing had changed with her daily routines or her pace except her new blood pressure medicines. The specialists assured us this was not the cause of Mum’s sudden death but merely that her heart had given out with age.
We tried to contact you almost straight away even though we knew you were away on the last part of your around-the-world cruise. It wasn’t till Wednesday morning that we were able to speak to the Captain and have the message passed on. At that point the family had decided to have the funeral last Friday knowing that you most likely would not be able to make it.
Allison said she would go in to dress Mum for the burial Wednesday afternoon and there was to be a private viewing after this. I wasn’t sure about the choice of coffin. Both Allison and Tom insisted we should look at environmentally friendly choices in cardboard.

I initially laughed out loud at the very thought that was conjured up in my mind. When Tom produced a booklet on some styles and designs, I have to say, I was surprised at how they looked just like regular wooden coffins in the photos. I wasn’t into the weird designs but we laughed at the thought of Mum being buried in a present style box that looked like an oversized box of chocolates complete with painted bow design on top. Allison told me that Barbara Cartland had been buried in a cardboard coffin and I had said jokingly, ‘What? Was it made out of her books? She hardly wrote anything that I know that wasn’t worth burying!’
Anyway I gave into my older brother and sister’s choice. After all, it was lined inside with a blue padding and looked presentable enough. I figured Mum wasn’t ever fussy about spending unnecessary money on things.
So Wednesday, after a long day at work, I drove to the funeral home and met up with the rest of the family for the viewing. Uncle Ted and Aunty Jean, on Dad’s side, were also there as they had remained close to Mum after Dad had died. I don’t know how well you know Uncle Ted, but it was no surprise to us kids when, after the viewing, Uncle Ted suddenly produced an Esky from somewhere and announced, ‘Time for a drink! In honour of your mother and a good woman let’s all have a drink to celebrate her good life.’
As he was saying this, he produced shot glasses out of his pockets. He handed us a glass each and then pulled from the Esky several cocktail shakers sitting in ice. With a shake and flick he poured us each a dark amber coloured drink.
‘Ted what on earth is this?’ asked Aunty Jean, as she cautiously sniffed the glass.
‘It’s called a Closed Casket and how appropriate I thought for today. You know how Ann liked a nip of rum every now and then and I think now is an ‘every now and then’ type moment. She would see the funny side to it – you know Closed Casket – get it?’ Uncle Ted poured himself a second oblivious to us all standing there hesitantly holding the cold drink and wondering if here and now was the time for such frivolity. We did drink it though and I was surprised how nice it tasted but then felt guilty with feeling pleasure at such a time. Uncle Ted had begun pouring us all another drink when suddenly the lid of the casket flew off landing with a dull thud to the floor.
Startled, we all turned to see Mum struggling to try and sit up. I bet I wasn’t the only one who wondered what we had just drunk. Aunty Jean screamed so loud the funeral home attendant came in and was just as bewildered as we were to what was going on. By this time Aunty Jean had slumped to the floor dropping her glass which snapped us out of what seemed like a slow moving dream. We didn’t know where to go first – to Aunty Jean or to Mum but it seems we all hung back in shock more than anything until Mum snapped at us to get her out of this box. She proceeded to continue to yell even as the funeral home attendant assisted her into a chair before saying he was going to call for a doctor.
It was later explained to us by the doctor on Wednesday night at the hospital, that Mum appeared to have experienced what is known as Lazarus Syndrome – something bought on by the attempted resuscitation after she had passed away at the doctor’s surgery. Lazarus Syndrome is a rare condition where the heart rate and breathing drop below measurable levels before returning to normal. It is understood that a spontaneous return of circulation happens after attempts to resuscitate fail with times varying with each case.
In all the kerfuffle we didn’t even think to try and contact you to tell you what had happened.
The doctor said he was going to keep Mum in overnight much to her disgust. It seems she was also expressing disgust with the choice of casket or was it just that ‘we had tried to bury her alive’ as that also seemed to be a part of her angry words whenever we tried to speak to her.
Mum was only home a little over a day when, in the early hours of Friday morning, I awoke to her yelling from below. I went downstairs to find her doubled over on the floor and appearing to be unconscious. She was clutching at her chest with one hand and I wondered if she had had a heart attack and ran back upstairs to ring for the ambulance. I then rang Allison and Tom and they all seemed to arrive at the same time. I’d left the front door open so that I could stay with Mum and had her head resting on a pillow and a blanket over her as they all filed in downstairs one after the other.
The ambulance officers told us they were sorry to say that Mum had passed away and they offered to contact the doctor for confirmation and the necessary procedures that needed to be followed up on.
Allison looked at me, then at Tom, and we all looked back at Mum lying in a peaceful form on the floor now.
‘Are you sure? I asked, explaining what had just happened over the week.
‘Yes without a pulse after all this time we are sure, sir. The doctor will confirm it all with you.’
So off Mum went back to the same funeral home but this time we chose a wooden casket and lined it with pink so that it didn’t resemble the last one in any way. Then around the time when her first funeral had been set for on the Friday morning, Mum again awakens from this phenomenon which I can’t say I have heard of till now. Can you believe it, Aunty Jo? I was beginning to think Mum had more than one life like a cat! Again she shocked the staff at the funeral home by walking out telling them that they were all in the plot to get rid of her.
I got the call from the home and found Mum walking along the side of the road. In the car I tried to explain to Mum what the doctor had tried to tell us but Mum would have no part of it. She said she was only getting a lift with me so she could go home and ring the police and report us all for what she thought was a plot to bury her alive. Mum seemed to have become quite confused and suddenly very old with all the dying and rising up again that had been going on.
Mum stopped eating over the weekend and spent most of the time in bed either asleep or staring at the ceiling. I was really worried that she seemed to have lost it and wasn’t sure if she knew what was going on. She hadn’t talked to any of us since we had got home Friday afternoon. Uncle Ted tried to offer her a nip of rum telling it would be all right but she just lay on the bed staring at the ceiling and didn’t respond to his attempts at humour like she used too. In fact, if her eyes weren’t open, I would almost say she had passed away again.
And then she did. Aunty Jean while sponging her down noticed that she had no pulse and called the ambulance and then the doctor. This time the doctor had Mum put into a private room in the hospital while we waited for what we thought would just be a repeat of the last times. We took it in turns to stay with Mum but after the third day the doctor declared Mum had indeed passed on this time and wrote up a Final Decease certificate there and then. The funeral home had already been put on notice but this time, given how things had ended up, it somehow was decided that Mum should be cremated immediately putting an end to it. I’m not sure what was being put an end to and didn’t want Mum being burnt alive and said as much. The doctor assured us that there had never been a case yet where a person had come back to life after being dead three days.
So it is with much sadness I write to tell you about Mum’s passing again but relief I guess that she is finally at rest. I know you will receive this letter when you get home – hardly a welcoming home letter but we just wanted you to know how difficult it has been this last fortnight. Can you believe it – this has happened to about 38 people around the world over the last thirty years? None of us had heard about the others but the doctor assures us it is a recognised medical syndrome and not some witchery or trickery or dare I say ‘spirit’ thing. I don’t believe in ghosts even though I know Mum did and always said she would come back to haunt me to see if I was looking after myself.
Well Aunty Jo, I hope you had a lovely cruise and I still plan to fly down and see you at Christmas if that’s alright. But for now I’ll end off here as I’d best go and check out the house again;
I keep getting the smell of smoke or something burning when I sit around too long, so take care,
Love from Anthony.


Buy it HERE

Autistic boy teaches colorful magic

Enjoy this illsutrated short story from the anthology

Kay Curran
THERE are many ways of experiencing colour! The artist and the poet express the colours around them in amazing ways. Some people see their feelings in colour from the golden joy of a parent when they hold their child for the first time to the red of frustration and tiredness as their special child grows up.
My grandson, who is 6-years-old, going on a hundred, was taught about the meaning of colour for him when he was only 3-years-old. His mother realised he was different, special, and a friend suggested he could be Asperger’s when she heard one of his meltdowns over the phone.
The meltdown comes with a blood curdling sound, very red and frustrated. Not just a tantrum that the average child will throw but different, signalling absolute anxiety, fear or terror of whatever makes his world almost unliveable at the time. It can be something as simple as a decision to walk down the steps that day.
We were fortunate enough to find a very good psychologist who worked wonders with him. However it caused all our families’ bank balances to turn red! You can believe that!
‘Doc’, as he called her, taught him that if he had red thoughts he would have red feelings and he had to learn to turn them into green thoughts and feelings. It was fascinating to see how this came about. One day, he came for his session, and, hardly able to pronounce the words, told Doc that he had white thoughts and feelings. ‘Mmmm, tell me about it,’ was her amazed reply. It was not something you heard at a psychologists’ conference or found in any research books.  He explained patiently that ‘angry, cranky and scared were very red feelings’ and he understood he had to make them green. ‘But,’ he said, ‘there is a different feeling altogether and it is white.’ Well the psychologists of Queensland have learnt something new and colourful.

At home with me one day he announced our dog Dove was very sad. I dismissed it by saying, ‘Oh go and give her a hug.’ Then I heard chattering coming from behind my chair, and there was my little man explaining gently to the dog, ‘Now Dove, your white feelings are coming from your white thoughts and you need to make them green.’ Can you believe it?
It has been, and I am sure will continue to be, a fascinating journey with this young man who has been on this earth a mere six years. Doc calls him her ‘little old Einstein!’ He has now been diagnosed with autism “officially” and like other special children we are given to nurture, he will make his own special mark on the world. We are blessed that he is classified as a “high functioning autistic”. He is able to talk and has a habit of doing so constantly. This can cause the listener to have feelings tingeing on the red! You can believe that!
When he started Prep School last year his grandfather asked him if he liked school, and he replied ‘Of course!’  His thinking was that if you go to school you like it – a green thought or rule he has set up?
He may be a book critic in the making.  Given a Prep book to read he said it was silly as they only changed one word in the whole book. The Year 1 book received a similar critique. The Year 2 book was considered ‘not bad’ but, when they took him back to advanced Year 1, he had comments coming from feelings bordering on the red. He said, ‘This book is rather silly; do you think I am a child?’ spoken politely but definitely.
As part of his therapy he gets to go horse riding each week and I am sure his horse Sugar, has been given the ‘white thoughts’ lecture in his own special gentle green way.
His twin sister has now been diagnosed with Asperger’s but, just to keep the teachers hopping, girls with Asperger’s present differently.  I pray every night for their teachers because their big brother who is 14 months older than the twins is also on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.
I think the difficulties they have, and will continue to have, probably make them even more wonderful. Their proud grandparents spruik about them constantly. Don’t ever ask grandma and granddad about the kids or you could end up with tired ears and red thoughts. You can believe it!
The latest is that when his mother told him the hug he gave her was ‘a real hug’ she was asked, ‘What are the elements of a real hug, Mummy?’ The next day when he was giving granddad his new real big hug I noticed he was also patting him on the back.  I leaned over and quietly asked, ‘Is the patting part of a real hug?’ In his own special way he grinned and answered, ‘Of course!’
He had said a year or so before that he had ‘blue’ thoughts for ‘special circumstances’ and I gather the ‘real hugs’ come under that colour. 
However they are very ‘normal’ children and drive their mum and dad often to ‘red thoughts’ each day.  But at night, when they are asleep you cannot stop smiling at them with loving golden thoughts. Many thanks to God for lending them to us in all their brilliant colours of red, green, white and the occasional blue.

Community of Authors Shine

THIS anthology follows on from the critically acclaimed debut volume The Writing on the Wall.

Writers from the Moreton Bay Region of Australia present 24 short stories, each one illustrated by an accomplished artist in Can you believe it…

This is the middle volume of a three-year Arts Alliance Pine Rivers project to showcase the writing and artistic talents of a local community.
This second anthology add a smattering of poetry, ranging from the comic through parodies to the lyrical.
In both words and illustrations, contributors range from people who earn or have earned a living from writing or art to those being published for the first time. The age range of the authors is from 16 to writers in their 80s. At least two of our authors do not have English as a first language. Two of the contributors are 16-year-olds, Sarah Hewitt-Howell and Maddi Mitchell.
Ken Armstrong digital art for Kay Curran’s Brilliant Colours about an artistic boy who learns about life from colours 
The stories range in style from humour to dark tales.
In this volume darker stories dominate, perhaps attesting to a bleak house at the centre of today’s world But even sombre stories have the power to uplift.
Michelle Caitens art for Maddi Mitchell’s
Too Late for Heroes 

Some of the illustrations are from award-winning international artists which is a huge bonus.
Elena Ventura illustration for Anne Ollson story 
Best Mates

This volume and its sequel Sweet and Sour combine for the perfect gidt for someone with a keen eye for a literary, albeit with some flaws, among the genres.
Buy Can you believe it… HERE 

Here is our celebratory video

9 ways art tells the story

THREE years ago, the not-so-magnificent seven of us were sitting around, drinking coffee and eating crackers laden with chili-cheese dip.
We were gathered in the comfortable recreation room – actually a detached building – at the home of Arts Alliance president Ken Armstrong.
It was one of monthly committee meetings of the alliance we had formed two years earlier as an umbrella organisation to represent the artists of our local area.
President Ken did not have to travel to meetings at his place and, in exchange for that comfort, he supplied the excellent coffee, tasty dips and the occasional small glasses of red wine.
Representing the arts community,  those of us who enjoyed a quiet drink felt it was fitting to indulge in the traditional arty red rather than a white cousin.
Theatrical representative Ray Swenson suggested the Alliance put together  an anthology of short stories from local writers.
Artists Ken Armstrong and Daniel Wagner said we should illustrate each story. The annual arts alliance anthology was born. Ken and Dan produced the covers for the first anthologies.
Ken took on the role of Illustrations  Editor at our usual rate of pay  –  priceless appreciation for a love job well done.
An  anthology of short stories, each with original illustration, is a rare beast.   I am yet to see one from the Big Six mainstream publishers. Such a creation fulfils for the vow of Bent Banana Books to produce books that are different.
I present a selection of the  art from  our 2010 and 2011 anthologies
Elena Ventura creates a technologically enhanced citizen for Brenda Simcox-Hunt’s sardonic tale  2060 Woman. Elena was a finalist in the prestigious Australian award (since 1949) Blake Prize for Religious Art named after the poet/ artist William Blake who some believe was a Druid priest. It is from the anthology Can you believe it…
Multi award winning artist Michelle Caitens renders an impressionistic urban landscape for the story The Other Side of Life, written by the artist’s daughter, Jenna Caitens for The Writing on the Wall, the anthology coming soon as an eBook through Bent Banana Books. The story and artwork are now available in 5 Strong Bricks in the Wall.
This Ken Armstrong illustration is for Audrey Sanderson’s The Anniversary (available in The Writing on the Wall and 5 Strong Bricks in the Wall.) I like the sense of joy Ken has captured as the young woman tries on a new pair of shoes.
Another one from Elena illustrates Best Mates by Anne Olsson from Can you believe it.
Elena’s skill has rendered a vivid portrait from the back. Can’t you just see the sunset or the lagoon the contented couple are looking at. 
Michelle’s sketch of a young woman has such fine detail in the eyes, the mouth and the clutched note. You just have to love how Michelle has captured the state of the young woman’s mind in the hair. It is for Too Late for Heroes, written by 18-year-old Maddi Mitchell and found in Can you believe it.
Another from Ken for Peter Bowler’s Tempting the Devil  (available in The Writing on the Wall and 5 Strong Bricks in the Wall.
 Yet another from Ken, this one illustrating my story Codpiece and Chips from Can you believe it. My anti-hero Steele Hill has three loves – horse-racing, rock music and girlfriend,Natalie, unfortunately, in that order. A meal of fish and chips is prominent in the yarn.
 You have probably gathered Ken is very much hands-on as an illustrations editor. This is is his artwork for L. G. Dalton’s A Once Upon a Time Tale in Can you believe it.
But Can you believe it HERE and 5 Strong Bricks in the Wall HERE

Poking fun at focus groups

I tried my hand at parody for our anthology Can you believe it…
What better target  for satiric verse than politicians using focus groups to develop policy.
You can buy Can you believe it… HERE
If you like this parody feel free to pass it on.

How they Brought the Good News from Focus Groups
Bernard Browning Dowling
(Gallup is one of Australia’s busiest political pollsters.)
I sprang to the mobile, and Tony, and she;
I Galluped, Jools Galluped, we Gallluped all three;
‘Good speed!’ cried the Whip, as the poll date near grew;
‘Speed!’ echoed the Press to us Galluping through;
Behind sits the Speaker, his tights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we Galluped abreast.

Not a word to each other; we ran the poll race
Neck by neck, stride by stride, ever changing our place;
I turned in my muddle and made its grabs tight,
Then shortened each sentence, and set the pitch right,
Rekindled the cheap shot, stained blacker the wit,
Nor Galluped less readily Tony a bit.

By half-way, Jools groaned; and cried Tony, ‘Quick slur!
‘Your Labs Galluped bravely, the fault’s but in her.’
She’ll remember the day for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering freeze,
And comeback, and straight’ning steel of her face,
As up from her haunches she re-joined the race.
‘How they’ll greet us!’—and all in a moment my phone
Rolled neck and crook over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my mobile to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Oz from her fate,
With my nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for my  eye-sockets’ rim.

And all I remember is, friends flocking round
As I sat with my head ‘twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this failure of mine,
As I poured down my throat our last measure of wine,
Which the tacticians misreading a Galluping jerk
Said no more than my due who sought good news not work.

You can buy Can you believe it… HERE