Bio

How do I accurately describe myself?  Is it even possible to be accurate, honest and comprehensive and why the heck would anyone want to embark on a frightening journey like this in the first place?

I see myself as a battler with a wealth of experience in life and a burning desire to use that experience to leave this world in better condition than I found it.

I have made a lot of mistakes and have suffered greatly because of them.  I have also suffered greatly because of things that were not my mistakes, like catching Polio at the age of 5, but these things were no less significant to me than if I had caused them myself.  Allow me to explain that statement.  I do not believe that things happen for no reason, and therefore everything that has befallen me has within it a lesson or an opportunity for knowledge, experience and growth that I would otherwise not have had.  So then, regardless of the cause of any particular event, situation or mistake that I have endured, it is my responsibility to respond to that situation in a way that makes it positive and productive, for me.  I believe that we all have that responsibility and that bearing up to it is the key to true freedom.

I was born into a traditional Jewish family in Melbourne in 1955.  I was the youngest of 3 children in a loving and strong nuclear family.  Unfortunately for me and my family, I was infected with Poliomyelitis at the age of 5 (in 1960) due to a mixture of ignorance and incompetence within the health system in Victoria at that time.  I had a cold when they came to vaccinate the children at my kindergarten and so could not be given the injection.  Nobody thought to follow this up when I got over my cold so I was vulnerable to the devastating virus and subsequently caught it.  If you think that I am a pro-vaccination enthusiast, you would be right.

My first year of school was done at home, in bed, via correspondence and my mother was my teacher.  At the time I was unable to walk at all or use my arms very well either, so I was confined to bed most of the time.  I remember some of the lessons and I really enjoyed learning.  But I was also undergoing extensive physiotherapy which was very painful for me and my mother and I can remember her suffering because of my pain more than I can remember the pain itself.  It was a very difficult time for the other members of my family as well.

My brother Norm was 8 years older than me and a teenager.  We lived in totally different worlds, me a paralysed toddler and Norm a teenager trying to deal with puberty and facing the world without a lot of support because of the enormous family resources being given to me.  I think that he really resented me for this and we never really got the opportunity to get past that, so there was always a gulf of difference between us.

My sister, Ruth, was 6 years older than me and so, at the tender age of 11, se was forced to become an adult, seemingly overnight, to support our family with things that my mother would have been doing had she not been caring for me full-time.  Poor Ruth had to come home from school, clean the house, cook the tea and so on.  A quarter of a century later we talked about this and it came as a shock to me, because from my perspective I had no idea what went on past my bedroom door.  I am so glad and grateful that she told me about how she was affected by my illness because now we are closer for it.  My disease hurt a lot of people besides me.

After my first year of school I was accepted into the Yooralla Special School for Crippled Children in Balwyn.  I spent the next 3 years attending school and therapy there.  During that time I started to recover quite quickly, due to the Sister Kenny Method of treatment and began walking again, albeit with crutches, full length callipers on both legs and a back brace that completely encircled my torso.  My mind was quick and I was very cheeky to everyone, all the time.  I was constantly in trouble with ‘authority’ and I got into a lot of fights with the other children.  I hated it there because I felt out of place and I guess my acting out caused that to become true, because I was ostracised and lonely and very, very unhappy.  I well remember the day Mrs Baglin, the headmistress, called my parents to the school and told them that I would be better served in the normal school system as I was ‘physically too good’ to be at Yooralla any longer.  I was still using the callipers, crutches and back brace at that time, though, but that was of no concern to her.  They wanted me gone and that is what happened.

That was when I discovered what hell can be like.  I was placed into the Auburn Central Primary School in Grade 5 (Year 5) and in that environment I was a complete freak.  Not only was I substantially disabled, I was also cheeky and dismissive of authority.  That led to unbelievable conflict and torture from both the teachers and the students.  It is a close call as to which group were the worst, but I think the prize goes to the children, who proved they were unrelentingly cruel in every way possible. The teachers merely resorted to humiliating me in front of the other children and to violence with the strap on a very regular basis.  I was strapped on both arms many times until I had black and blue welts on my forearms, which I would then try to hide from my parents because of feelings of guilt for getting treated this was in the first place.  I now know that these are classic abuse traits, but that was the accepted system of discipline in Victoria in the 1960’s.  I hated school.

After completing Grade 6 my parents decided to put me into Mt. Scopus College, which is a very good school indeed. I lasted a couple of years there before they also decided that it would be better for them if I ‘went elsewhere’.  The first part of Form 3 (Year 9) was spent at Camberwell High School which was close to my family home.  I sort of liked it there but still got into a lot of fights (which I invariably lost due to my poor physical condition) and we moved to Balwyn later in the year and I was transferred to Balwyn High School to finish that year.  Changing schools in the middle of the year is very hard, and there were no ‘Trade Classes’ available for me to attend as they were all full.  So I was placed into the ‘Professional Classes’.  The classes offered in Professional were Typing and Communication as well as Cooking and I absolutely loved both of these subjects.  I also met a teacher in the Mathematics Department by the name of Eileen Surge and she was diabolical!  Mrs Surge would not tolerate any cheek from me whatsoever and constantly challenged me to think, think, think!  She had a deep and passionate love of numbers and she knew her stuff backwards, forwards and sideways.  I decided that she was not going to humiliate me and so began my development with mathematics and the following year, computer programming.  Because of Mrs Surge and the situation that put me into typing and communication and cooking classes, my life finally changed for the better and my future was created at that time.  It was also nice that in many of my classes I was the only boy, but those stories will be told at another time, if at all.

During Form 4 (Year 10) I had to undergo 2 lots of major surgery, one lot on my left foot to reduce my pronounced limp a bit, and the other was a spinal fusion because I was rapidly becoming a bent-over hunch back due to the uneven muscle strength in my body pulling my spine out of shape.  I was the second patient in Australia to undergo a multiple laminectamy on my Thoracic spine to correct my condition of Kyfo-Scoliosis.  These procedures took me out of school for the latter half of the year, so I had to repeat Form 4 the following year.  While I was off after the surgery, Mrs Surge arranged for me to attend an advanced programming course with her, at night, at Monash University.  I actually managed to get a very high mark in that course, even beating her, so the following year when I repeated, she made me teach the computer programming portion of the course!  I thought this  was terrific and it just goes to show that with the right kind of teaching, I turned out to be a good student that could achieve very good marks.  I think I came top or near the top in Maths that year.

Frank

Frank

Also during these years I first met my best friend Frank (see left), who was a quiet sort of chap of German origin.  Because my father was German and because Frank was a bit of a loner, we became instant and lifelong buddies.  What I didn’t know was that Frank was already an accomplished fighter and had won two Golden Gloves bouts with Navy boxers many years older than him, and both by knockout.  I had managed to find a protector and this was probably the most significant and positive thing to have happened in my life, since getting Polio I suppose.  Frank was by no means a bully or a thug. Quite the opposite actually, he would much rather run away from a fight than hurt anyone.  But he taught me how to box (very well) and if I did get into a fight after that the rules were that it had to be a boxing match and Frank saw to it that these rules were obeyed.  Strangely, I never really had to fight much anymore after that, so that ugly part of my life was finally over.  When the kids used to see us coming that would say “Here comes Frank-an’-Stern!” but we always took that in good humour and neither of us had much trouble at all.  Things were good at last.

For some reason that I do not fully understand, Balwyn High also decided that it would be better for me to leave after Year 10 and ‘go elsewhere’.  I do remember that I had accidently burst the eardrum of a school mate by slapping him in the side of the head (not hard but enough to create the force to burst his eardrum).  We had only been mucking around, not fighting or anything, but his parents wanted ‘action taken’ and I was again expelled.  (His eardrum fully healed in a week or so).

My final year at school was spent at Box Hill Technical College.  This was Form 5 (Leaving Certificate or Year 11) and they did not have HSC or Matriculation available there, as it was a trade school (forerunner of TAFE).  I was then in a band named Shackle as the bass guitarist and we were pretty darn good if I don’t say so myself.  Our English teacher, Mr Whitlock, was given the job of putting on the annual school concert that year, and he passed the responsibility off onto me, entirely.  So I found myself with full control over the whole event planning process and promptly decided to have a ‘Battle of the Bands’ as part of the concert.

As you have probably guessed, the concert was a total success; Shackle won the Battle of the Bands; I finished the year with good enough marks and my school career was over.  I had a short time of lots of girls, parties, motorbikes and other types of fun that 18 year olds had in the 1970’s.  Then I tried heroin and what I call the ‘‘Dark Years’’ began, lasting for a whole decade and taking in several prison terms, loads of trouble, some severe sickness and a lot of action that I will write about in detail at another time.  What I can say now is that it is clear to me that I was chosen to survive.  So many friends and associates of mine, from that time, are no longer with us.  I lived on the fringes of the underworld that was so well described in the show ‘Underbelly’ that was set in Melbourne in the 70’s.  I mixed with a lot of those people, saw them live and die and knew the code by which they operated.  I was even helped by one or two of them when I was way, way down and I still feel a degree of gratitude and respect for those individuals.

The ‘Dark Years’ saw me move from Melbourne to Canberra, back to Melbourne and finally to Sydney, where I eventually sorted myself out and started my new life and family.  Despite the turbulence and evils of the ‘Dark Years’, I managed to build a career in sales and even became a Licensed Dealers Representative (National Mutual) and a Justice of the Peace in NSW!  I also became a Clinical Drug Dependence Counsellor and worked as a consultant at the Northside Clinic for 14 years, a job that I enjoyed very much and which gave me the opportunity to help a lot of people, many of whom are still drug free.  I myself have been drug and alcohol free for nearly 3 decades.

I met my wife around this time and we have 2 children that were born in 1989 and 1991.   My wife was brought up as a Catholic and both of us have rejected religion for various reasons, but have a strong belief in God and a deep respect for the beliefs of others.  We do not seek to impose our beliefs on others and prefer that others show us the same courtesy.

Early in 1993 I became very sick.  Various diagnoses were applied to me to account for my condition, among them Post-Polio Syndrome, Hepatitis C, Post Viral Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Whatever it was, it knocked me out for 5 years.  I also became depressed and broke my left femur, just below the hip, in 1996.  Shortly after that I became a Type 2 Diabetic, developed high blood pressure and had the highest cholesterol reading my doctor had ever seen.  Oh, I was also stacking on the weight and had become morbidly obese.  At least I had been cleared of Hepatitis C as a cause of my problems because a liver biopsy had cleared me of any diseases.

During the time of my fatigue, I attended Macquarie University to do a post grad diploma in Clinical Drug Dependence, but breaking my leg interrupted my studies and they are still to be completed.  However, my old hobby and passion for computers took shape as a business plan and I started PC Fever, first from my home and then from a shop in Victoria Rd West Ryde.

PC Fever was started more as a therapy for my condition than as a way to make money, which is just as well because it only ever cost me money but it worked really well as a treatment!  I am very proud of what PC Fever achieved within the community and the IT industry.  At one stage we had 10 full time employees and we trained many technicians and reached a very high level of regard among our many clients.

I served some years on the West Ryde Chamber of Commerce and at the same time I spent 5 years serving as a volunteer on the Ryde City Council Access Committee at the invitation of Clr Connie Netterfield.

In 2008 we moved PC Fever to Melrose Park (still in West Ryde) and considerably downsized due to a slump in the economy and my failing health from repeated bouts of aspirated pneumonia – another legacy of my having had Polio in 1960.  On a good note, I had undergone Gastric Bypass surgery in 2007 and this had completely cured my diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and my obesity as well!  I had ceased all medications for these things and I lost 45 KG to be a stable 75 KG ever since.

In September 2009 I was again sick with aspirated pneumonia when we had “Red Dust Day” in Sydney.  I was home in bed and although I couldn’t see the dust, it made my pneumonia much worse.  Then the very next day we had all of our old carpet taken up and replaced with new stuff, and that again caused a mass of dust that made my condition worse.  The next day I was placed into a medically induced coma for 7 days.  But I didn’t wake up for another 7 days after that and the whole time it was touch and go if I would make it at all.

I did wake up eventually (of course, as I am writing about this!) but when I did I was in St George Public Hospital ICU.  I had no idea how I got there or why (for a while they thought I had Swine Flu and that was why) and I was completely paralysed.  I was also intubated so I couldn’t talk or even grunt and I had complete organ failure as well.  If that isn’t enough, I had forgotten how to breathe for myself so I was completely dependent on a range of machines to keep me alive.  To make matters worse, I was completely lucid and aware, but I could not communicate by any means other than blinking, and they kept telling me that I might have brain damage from being oxygen depleted for the 2 weeks I was in the coma!

What a nightmare that was for me!  Also, they were giving me antibiotics that I have an allergy to, and they were feeding me through a nose tube (into my stomach) with a liquid food that was causing me severe indigestion and I couldn’t tell them about it!  I just had to lie there and suffer.  The final cruelty was their burning desire to wean me off the ventilator (that was breathing for me) so they would sneakily turn down the oxygen or the pressure without me knowing about it.  All this would do was cause me to have a full-on panic attack because suddenly I couldn’t breathe and I had no idea why.  About 10 times a day I thought “This is it, I’m dying” and I would have another panic attack.

Eventually I worked out what was going on, and once I could write some words on a page they would hold for me I got them to stop being so sneaky and to tell me in advance that they were turning down my air supply.  The first time I wrote anything for the doctors I wrote “What does Oxygen and sex have in common?” Remember that they thought I had brain damage and were not really trying to communicate with me that well.  The doctors were very perturbed by what I had written and asked me to answer the question, so I wrote “They become really important when you’re not getting any!”  They all laughed at this and told my wife that I was ‘okay’ and ‘that I was back’ and after that they took me seriously and tried hard to understand what I was trying to communicate to them.

I was on life support for 3 whole months and Oxygen for another 6 weeks after that.  I came home at the end of January 2010 and spent the next 12 months learning how to walk again.  PC Fever was no more, sold off to another company who did not want to use the good name I had spent a decade and a small fortune building up.

My life had been fairly quiet since then, until I became the subject of a government gone out of control and once again I am in the public eye, fighting the good fight.  From this point on you will have to follow my exploits in a different part of the blog which is all about that fight.

3 Comments on “Bio”

  1. Katie Johnson July 2, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    This is an amazing life story Rod …you are certainly a fighter and should be proud of who you are today. Looking forward to future blogs by you . 🙂

    • rodstern July 2, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      Thank you for your kind words Katie. I will try very hard to make my comments interesting and challenging so that you can really get your teeth into them! Remember – keep coming back! 🙂

  2. Miguel July 3, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    You should write a book mate, this is good stuff!!

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