Two of Us - Fred & Jan Fisher

Fred Fisher, 60, has twice been a finalist in the National Sculpture Prize.
Amost two years ago, he had a double lung transplant.
His wife, Jan, 52, is a computer systems analyst. They live in Hobart

Interveiw by Jane Cadzow
Good Weekend Oct 22 2005

Janet: We met in Paris.It wasn't a romantic occasion, though. I'd been over in Europe for about eight mongths doing the Aussie touring-around thing, as you did back in the 70's. Fred was working on bus camping tours going from London out to India, back and forth. He didn't actually drive than often. He was more the mechanic and sometimes a sort of tour leader. And I booked as a passenger on one of those tours, going from London to Kathmandu.

The first time we said hello was one morning when I went to the back of the bus to find the breakfast cereal and I thnk he was aleep in the aisle. He claims I stepped on him, which was probably true. So that was the beginning. We just really suited each other, I suppose. We talked a lot. He was living in London but he just never went back at all, not to get his stuff or anything. We had Christmas in Kathmandu that year.

The specialist diagnosed him with emphysema in 1997 and gave him the hard word about giving up smoking. I don't think they are keen talk to you unless you're prepared to do that. I think at that stage they were saying he might last five to 10 years, which seemed like a long time, but it went fast.

The issue was that his lungs did not contract properly. It was not so much a lack of oxygen but that he'd get a build-up of carbon dioxide, so he'd basically go all drowsy and collapse.

He gradually got worse and then they started saying perhaps he should go on the transplant list. He had to do a whole lot of tests to make sure that he was suitable. They only do it for people who haven't got anything else wrong with them, and you've also got to have the right attitude. He was put on the list in mid 2003. Then it was a waiting game.
He used to mainly have his problems at night, so I'd be lying in bed listening to check if he was still breathing. Sometimes we'd have to get the ambulance and go down and spend the night in emergency. We were on tenterhooks all the time, waiting for the call.

It came just after Christmas 2003. They told us there was a certain amount of risk of dying during the operation, and certain risks afterward. But you don't really have much choice. Obviously you've got to do it. I was scared but I don't think he was. Afterwards, he was fairly ill. He was in the intensive care unit for a few weeks.

He still has his ups and downs I guess. He had some rejection problems last year and he's had some side effects from medication. But generally speaking he's been very good.

His lungs are terrific. He's blowing 130 percent or something. He's got so much air now it's sort of funny. The first time he sneezed after the operation was an experience for everybody concerned. He knew he was going to sneeze but he couldn't tell what was going to happen.

And it was just sort of PHWOAR! My God, there was so much air in there.

Fred is a very kind and generous person. Very passionate in his ideas. Our house is full of his sculpture. I'm the apprentice - I do the lifting and carrying and cleaning up and things like that. It's really good being able to be involved.

We're a pair, that's for sure. We do everything together. Fred had the operation on his own, but that's about it. My brother says we're tied together with a very short piece of string. For me, there would be nothing without Fred.

Fred: Living on the hippie trail in the 70's was sort of wild. I think a lot of people who where doing it were escaping from something - there's no doubt I was. I did some stupid things. But when I found Jan I didn't have anything to escape from any more. If we hadn't met on that trip, I'd probably still be rolling around in some gutter in Europe. If I was still alive.

I think our first official date was in Istanbuil. I said, "I'll show you where to go for a meal in Istanbul", and of course I got lost. But I suppose it started off from there. From that time on, we were a pair. Bread and Jam, they called us on the bus, and that was pretty true. We stuck togther. We've only had about three nights away from each other, apart from me having the transplant.

Not being able to breathe properly was very difficult. Every morning she'd go off to work and I'd wave from the window, then it would take me two hours to get dressed. I couldn't eat very much. I couldn't watch the footy because I used to get too stressed, so I'd go to bed on Friday nights and Jan would yell the score out when things were getting exciting. It got to the stage where she had to look after me almost full-time and we knew that every day it was going to get worse. It was funny because at the same time, my art was starting to go well.
The transplant was on our wedding anniversary. Apparently the first thing I said to her after the operation was, "They said it wouldn't hurt".

They tell you the patient can be quite grumpy after the transplant it's sort of a natural thing. Its from the drugs and the trauma you've been through. In the hospital I did some terrible things to Jan. She'd touch me and I'd sort of recoil from her. I couldn't help that. I used to regret it so much.
I'm still grumpy. I can't really explain it but I get irritated by noise and stuff. I can't stand the radio and I get into crowds and I think "I can't deal with this. I don't want to know about it". I've always been a bit like that.

We lead a very insular life. If we do go somewhere - go out and have a good time - we're always relieved to get home. We just degenerate into ourselves again and look at each other and think, "God we're a boring pair, aren't we"? Isn't it good? Just the way we like it."

I am totally dependent on Jan, there's no doubt about that. Without her, I'd be totally lost. She makes sure I'm organised because I'm sort of absent-minded. I rarely carry my own credit card. I haven't got a watch. It's almost like she's the other half of the brain.
It sounds very vain but I don't think Jan would know what to do without me either, because I've been her focus for so long. I'm her hobby, she says. It is a bit of a worry because the transplant doesn't cure you, but I'm optimistic that I might have 10 years ahead of me. The future doesn't matter so much because life is so good now.