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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2870

Senator COLEMAN(1.25) —Honourable senators will remember that in 1984 the election was held on 1 December and that makes tomorrow by date, if nothing else, a most important one for me because three days before the 1984 election I collapsed in my electorate office in Midland. I guess to a large number of people here that may not seem to be terribly important, but to me it certainly is. I want to take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to a large number of people, but to record also the tremendous changes that have taken place in neurosurgery over recent years.

There is not a lot about the whole matter of my collapse that I remember, which I am told is pretty fortunate because it would be most painful. In fact, there is not a great deal that I recall about my stays in two of Perth's major hospitals. I recall various members of staff but not a great deal about the treatment, so it must have been extremely tender loving care that I was receiving. It is important, I feel, for me to use the time available to thank the people who have assisted me in my return to this work. I happen to enjoy my job as a senator very much. I have been here now for 12 1/2 years and I appreciate it.

I want to place on public record a sincere thank you to my staff because, whilst I have done that privately, if it had not been for their attention I would certainly not have received the assistance that I needed in those first vital minutes after my collapse. They were alert, they were on the ball, they made the necessary phone calls and then went running to look for help. They found the doctor at the local surgery. A woman who had gone in to the local electoral office to check that her name was on the roll for Saturday's voting happened to be a triple certificated sister. When my secretary burst in the back door and said, `Can anyone help? Senator Coleman has collapsed', she came to make sure that she did what she could.

I also have to thank my staff, of course, for making sure that my family were notified of my illness in what I consider to be a correct and acceptable way. I am told that frequently pressure is applied on families because suddenly a teacher at school or a workmate takes a phone call and says to a member of the family, `Your father', or `your mother has just collapsed, you are needed at the hospital'. That applies an incredible amount of pressure on people.

I have, of course, also to thank the ambulance people who came very quickly. I do not know that I appreciate the fact that obviously in Western Australia the ambulance lines are tapped by the local media because my secretary informed me that whilst I collapsed at about ten minutes to one and was on my way by seven or eight minutes past one, the phone started ringing straightaway with various media wanting to know whether it was correct that I had in fact been taken off to a Perth hospital.

As I said, there was not much that I was aware of at the time. Even though I spent two and a half weeks in Royal Perth Hospital whilst I was having a great deal of treatment, I really do not recall to any great extent the treatment that I was having. Similarly, when I was transferred to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital for the actual operation, I remember the sister telling me that I was going to be quite beautiful; that was while she was in the middle of shaving my head, and I knew that what she was saying was not quite so. That registered, but nothing much else.

I really do not recall a great deal until some six or seven days later, after the stitches had been removed and I had been transferred to a ward. There are people, like the physiotherapists at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital who, even after I had been discharged and they recognised that they could do little to help me, nevertheless made me fell as mentally comfortable as they could. There are the eye specialists who are still seeing me, even though I am convinced now that I do not need their assistance. There are people like Michael Hunt, the State psychiatrist who saw me at a time when I began to feel quite bad as I thought that my memory was never going to allow me to even read a newspaper again. He assisted me greatly and I appreciate his help.

One of the most important people to be mentioned is the neurosurgeon, Dr Michael Lee, who eventually operated on me. It is not an easy thing to do. I do not know how to thank a person who obviously saved my life. It is difficult to somehow total up the years that you now have to look forward to that without his help you would not have, and yet it is most important that this be recorded. I remember when I first came home from hospital; after some six weeks I was a little horrified to look into my bathroom mirror and see the shaven head with fairly heavy scar tissue from forehead to crown and then back to above the ear. I was pretty shocked at not being able to focus properly with one of my eyes appearing to sit about two inches lower than the other and there was a great dent in my forhead that I was quite sure was never going to change.

I do not recall whether there was a mirror in my room at the hospital but I am sure that if there had been, it would have been tactfully removed before I took up residence. It was only much later that I appreciated that I had had three aneurysms on my brain and for them to be treated it was necessary for those incisions to be made into my skull for-as it happened with me, anyway-my brain to be handled while staples were inserted. I was dosed with steroids and it was necessary for me to have fairly intensive care over an extensive period.

As I have already said, there is a great deal about my stays in both hospitals that I cannot remember, but I am aware that changes have taken place over the last 18 months or so. For instance, my hair has grown and so the scar tissue is covered. My face has returned to normal and whilst there are still some things lacking, I can appreciate the fact that I am alive only because of the skill of Dr Michael Lee. There is nothing more that I can say, except that it is a debt which will never be repaid and it is a debt which overflows to his partner, Dr Bryant Stokes, who assisted Dr Lee at the operation, and I express the gratitude that I feel for both of them. Quite recently they have, in part, been responsible for the opening of a memorial lecture trust, named after one of the better-known neurosurgeons in Western Australia.

It is being called the John Lekias Memorial Lecture Trust. Dr Stokes and Dr Lee have certainly been responsible in part for the establishment of this trust. With money donated it is the intention to take to Perth the people involved in neurology to give lectures, to work with local neurologists and therefore to enable them to maintain communication with people living in other parts of the world. We are gradually learning more about the brain and how it works and our neurosurgeons are amongst the best in the world. I could be biased if I said they are the best in the world. They have a tremendous capacity, but they still need to be able to communicate freely with people in their own area and to be able to extend their treatment of people.

There are many people throughout this country who are involved in accidents which leave them with brain damage. There are many people like me who suffer once, and hopefully only once, from aneurysms. Prior to my operation, for instance, I recall being told by a nursing sister that 60 per cent of people die in the first hour with one aneurysm. So I guess that having survived three I can consider myself extremely lucky. I have since been told by Dr Lee that he has operated on a person with five aneurysms and that person has now returned to work. That is surgery that we would not have anticipated was possible 10 or 15 years ago.

There are children being born with brain damage who are able to be effectively treated. It is because we need to progress and more fully to understand the role of the brain that the trust that I mentioned, the John Lekias Memorial Lecture Trust, has been established. He was senior neurosurgeon at both the Royal Perth Hospital and the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children in Western Australia for quite some time. He was also a board member at both of those hospitals. He was also President of the Australian Medical Association for a time, so it is appropriate that this lecture trust be named after him. I sincerely hope that people in the community will support the trust to the best of their ability, to enable that incredible work to continue in the name of that incredible man.

Lastly, Mr Deputy President, and certainly not least, I have to pay a tribute to my family, those wonderful people who buckled around at the time when it was necessary and gave me the support when I needed it most, even though at times I did not realise or even recognise that I needed it. To my daughter, my son-in-law and their children and my son, I say a very humble thank you. To my husband, Jim, I am not terribly sure what I can say because this is a man who suddenly found himself at home with a 14-year-old son who had to be cared for and a wife in hospital. Sometimes two and three times a day he would come to visit me, bringing all of the things that I love to eat; those sweets, chocolates and things that I really should not have had but I can at least lay the blame at his door that I had them. He is a person who would come from work and prepare an evening meal because I was not capable of doing it; a person who before he went to work in the morning would ensure, because I was not capable of doing anything for myself, that I had everything available to me. He supported me when I made the decision to return to this place, and has recognised my need to finish my term here.

I guess what I am really trying to say is that we have to become more aware of the dangers of applying pressure to people. Yet I see we are doing that very thing here. Even though a few years ago when Senator John Knight died rather suddenly we said that we would change the sitting hours and we would make sure that no pressures were applied to people, we suddenly find ourselves sitting in this place for at last four consecutive weeks where our day will start at around 7 a.m. I have two medical people sitting opposite me, Dr Grimes and Dr Peter Baume, who were responsible in part for the establishment of the working hours and who were amongst those who at the time of Senator Knight's death said: `We will never allow this to happen again'. But here we find ourselves in a day that will start at around 7 o'clock and will not conclude in actuality in this chamber until 10.30 p.m.

We will apply pressure to every Minister in this place. We will apply pressure to people such as yourself, Mr Deputy President, by the hours that we will insist that you work. We know the problems for our spouses and our families during normal sitting hours and we have to recognise that that is extended when we sit for longer periods. I would simply like to conclude by saying that I want to thank those people both in the Opposition and in my own party who provided me with the assistance that I needed when I first returned to this place. I thank the staff of the Parliament who made that quite a bit more simple than it could have been and I hope and trust that people will contribute not only to the trust that I have mentioned today but to other trusts that I understand are being opened for brain damaged people in other States.