A patient’s story

by Peter FitzSimons

Charlie Lynn, you say?

A loveable lunatic like they don’t make them anymore.

Nigh on twenty years ago Charlie was the tour leader for seventeen Sydney blokes including me as we “trekked the track”, the Kokoda Track to be precise. At that point, among his fellow denizens of the NSW Upper House, he was known as the “Member for Port Moresby”, so often was he up that way, and there could have been no better man to do it with.

A fit Army veteran, the Liberal politician had enormous knowledge of the history of the Kokoda Track, reverence for its extraordinary history – like the Gallipoli story, except this time instead of fighting for England, the Diggers fought for Australia, and won – and, most importantly for our purpose, knew how to walk it. It was the most intense six days of our lives, climbing mountains, fording streams, hacking up our lungs in exhaustion, and through the jungle in equal measure. And there was Charlie, always Charlie, behind us, in front of us, beside us: Charlie urging us on; Charlie rounding us up; Charlie rousing on us from behind when we needed it; Charlie surging forward himself when we didn’t. Bloody Charlie. It frankly felt like there were six of him, he was omnipresent throughout the day, then dominant in the story-telling at night.

The fellow that organised the whole thing, and had personally hired Charlie to lead it, was a very successful Sydney businessman, used to running his own show and having everyone snap to. That corporate czar, a very fine man, started the journey with the impression that because he wrote a big cheque to make it happen, he had some rights as to when we would start and finish the day and even what particular route we would take.

Charlie, ummm, put him right.

When the businessman insisted at one point that we needed more rest at lunch break, Charlie said no worries at all, and manoeuvred so we didn’t even start the next leg till 5 pm, as the long tropical twilight started to descend. You want to stop for longer? Charlie was delighted. He then took us on a longer route and we didn’t make the next camp till midnight!

From that point on Charlie’s command was unchallenged.

Somehow or other through his leadership and care, he really did get eighteen fairly unfit blokes safely to the other end, and in good time too. It formed a bond between us all that lasts to this day, and when we see each other there is much laughter at the memories, and rueful shaking of the head at various episodes – many of them involving a bit of vintage Charlie nutterdom. (Only Charlie could have shamed us into forging a raging river at Templeton’s Crossing by going first and demonstrating to men often twenty years younger than how it was done, morally obliging them do it because they didn’t want the old fella to leave them humiliated and forlorn on the wrong side of the river. The one bloke who refused anyway, Charlie near piggy-backed over regardless.)

In the years since, I’ve seen him from time around and about Sydney, at various functions, sometimes doing my bit to counter his nutter views on such things as the virtues of the monarchy, but don’t get me started. I always extend to him my regards, regardless. For he is a good man, and the thing I admire most about him is his commitment to both honour the Diggers that fought on the Kokoda, and inspire Australians to repay the debt our country owes to the New Guineans for helping our blokes in their times of greatest need.

Last time I saw Charlie was at Brisbane Airport, a few years ago. I was heading to Darwin. And where are you off to Charlie?

Off to Port Moresby.

And what is that patch over your eyes?

It was some shocking parasite he’d picked up, during one of his treks, and his condition had deteriorated so rapidly he had been evacuated to Port Moresby – on what the Native porters call in their delightful Pidgin English, “mixmaster-him-come-from-Jesus” but you and I know as a helicopter. The ophthalmologist in Moresby immediately realised the seriousness of the situation and organised Charlie to get straight back to Sydney, to be whisked to the Eye Hospital on landing, as his condition was so bad he actually risked going completely blind.

I am told by my dear friend Professor Gerard Sutton that he had, ahem, “an acanthamoeba keratitis involving both eyes”. Look, it wasn’t what he said – for I have no clue – it was the way he said. This was serious. Something to do with vicious amoebae, possibly coming from contaminated water on the Track, getting into the surface window of the eye and creating such havoc that they would turn the lights out if not immediately treated.

It was shocking luck.

But at least, at the bare, hungry, sniffing minimum, he was indeed at the mighty Sydney Eye Hospital!

For five weeks, Charlie was seen by a procession of the best ophthalmologists in the country, including Gerard. At one point around the third week, when he couldn’t see at all, things were really grim.

“I was lying on my back,” he told me, “and realised I might have to come to terms with the fact that I might not see again.”

Bit by bit however, with the specialised treatment on board, Charlie won the battle against the amoeba and his vision recovered. Despite still being a one-eyed monarchist, Charlie now has excellent eye-sight on everything else, especially after his recent cataract surgery.

Bravo the Sydney Eye Hospital. Bravo Charlie.

Sight is a precious gift. At the Sydney Eye Hospital, doctors and nurses are available 24 hours a day seven days a week to help people like Charlie. In this difficult period with Covid-19, they continued to provide this same world class service. The Sydney Eye Foundation supports not only the hospital through essential equipment such as the special microscope that was able to detect the tiny amoebae in Charlie’s eye, but also the doctors who come from all around the world to work and learn at the internationally recognised centre of excellence. The Foundation also supports the ground breaking research that is done in the Hospital that has fostered inspirational innovations and sight saving treatments.

The recurring theme that comes through Charlie’s life – beyond the sprinkling of a little light nutterdom between friends – is Service. Service to country and his fellow Australians. At the Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation, they are trying to follow the example that Charlie and all our ANZACs have set.

With sincere thanks to Peter FitzSimons and Charlie Lynn. You can follow Peter and Charlie on the links below.

@Peter_Fitz

Website: https://www.kokodatreks.com
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