Archive for February, 2009
A Dogs Tail Tale
She lay on her side, her ragged breath imperceptibly moving her outer clothing. Beside her lay Beatrice, her King Charles spaniel, her constant companion apart from the hospitalisations of both of them for the last twelve years. She had originally been born Amyrll Beatricia Candy and was a pure breed but the old woman had renamed her Beatrice not realising that like ships, renaming an animal is fraught with superstition. And it had been a superstitious relationship. Beatrice had provide time and time again that she was capable of ignoring her breeding and resorting to escaping from enclosed and locked yards and cavorting with all manner of mongrels. The old woman had her spayed early on in the piece but her instinct to escape and make mischief remained with her until her legs and heart no longer had the energy to dig and run.
Now she lay in what could be the trows of death and the old woman’s family gathered round in her and the dogs time of need although the two children hated the dog with a venom that was only matched by that which attached the women to her pet. The vet had been phoned and the old woman had finally accepted that the end was near, as was her own end. An end to living on her own, possibly an end to living altogether – but for Beatrice , her ends was coming this very night as the cold winter chill closed in on the house on the hill. The son had already prepared a shallow grave in a spot chosen by his elderly mother. He had made sure that she could see the grave site from her bed and had fashioned a crude cross and a spray of flowers so that she could see her beloved Beatrice. The now huddled around the two reclined forms as the old woman suddenly tried to change her mind.
“She seems to have eaten and held down that bowl of food”, she intoned for the third time “she seems to be pulling back form the brink”.
The dog twitched as if she sensed what was going on and felt a reprieve but the children looked at the pile of regurgitated food in the corner and nodded knowingly to each other. A knock on the door signalled the arrival of the vet. He entered the over warm room and quickly looked around and greeted the old woman who he had much contact with in the past year. Beatrice had slowly withdrawn from life and received injections of steroids, antibiotics, pain killers and many other medicinal remedies which now stood at nearly $2000. So his little cash cow or cash dog had finally come to an end. He was a caring and compassionate vet but he also ran a business and this little dog had lived well past her use by date. He opened his bag and asked the obvious questions.
“Are you sure? – I will make it as painless as possible – has there been arrangements made for disposal”.
At that last utterance the old woman shrieked and asked be escorted off to bed.
The children looked in amazement as he shuffled along the corridor with the aid of her walker.
“Doesn’t she want to hold her?” the daughter asked.
The son just rolled his eyes, being used to the eccentric behaviour of his mother.
Then the vet announced that he was missing one of the important drugs that needed to be administered and he left the room intimating he would return in several minutes. An half an hour rolled by and the two children, eager to continue with their nightly routine became anxious, then annoyed at the delay. They commenced to talk about what would happen to the house and their mother after this. They talked of the possibility of a rest home and then the daughter unveiled her plans for the refurbishment and then sale of the family home. The son rolled his eyes and remembered what growing up with these two people had been like. He silently prayed for the quick return of the vet. His prayers were answered a few minutes later and the little man glided into the room with a triumphant look on his face and drew up the two needles.
“One to ease the pain, one for the job”, he announced ghoulishly.
The daughter left the room to fetch the mother but, to her shock, she looked peacefully asleep in her bed which overlooked the soon to be grave of her beloved pet.
They waited after the vet had departed. He had said about a half an hour but the dog appeared to be going into rigour after about fifteen minutes so they gathered her up in her favourite blanket and made the journey to the gravesite. The son had tried to get the daughter to stay with the mother in case she woke up and realised what had happened and plunged into a hysterical fit which had happened at times like this in the past, but the daughter insisted on coming. The son really did not want her to see that he had laid out a bag of quicklime next to the grave which he was going to empty over the corpse to compensate for the shallowness of the grave and the inevitable smell. He had read that quicklime hastened decomposition and had decided that could only be a bonus.
“All right, just follow along with the torch so I can see where I am going.”
The path to the garden grave was dark and through a small grove of bushes. As he approached the gravesite the torch suddenly flickered out and the garden was plunged into darkness. He felt a root catch his foot and he plunged forward, Beatrice flying from his arms. He thought of angels and was relived that he hadn’t plunged face first into the garden. When they got the torch going again they had lost the dog. Where had she gone? They searched through the shrubs and then the daughter uttered a scream.
Beatrice lay, with all four legs stiffly in the air, on her back in the open grave. She had landed perfectly upside down as her last act of freedom. The son silently shushed the daughter away and resumed his grisly task.
The little shit seat kicker sitting directly behind me – running his little fucking tin toy up and down the window sill, making his irritating little car noises ‘brrmm brrrmm, screech, screech, brrmm, craaaaaash, – his parents oblivious or not caring how I could lean over the seat and poke his nasty little eye out with the little plastic fork that the air hostess has so kindly supplied me with and which I have broken off the two outside tines so that one sharp, jagged little protubence stands out – ready to snatch an eye. There – I feel better already.
You see them at every airport. Early to arrive, slightly overweight or they have just filled out their grey, black or pink pants too many convenience meals. Tottering on high heels usually matched in colour to the blouse worn under the suit. Black suit with frilly white blouse, white shoes, grey suit, black accessories. They sport slightly out of date hair styles but always, always, the sunglasses are perched on their hair nests. The laptop bag opened at any oppurtunity as if they have to prove to the world that they have some worth. Oh! And the cellphone is checked every five minutes for longed for messages from men who have forgotten them as quickly as they made their acquaintance.
They invariably stare at magazines (or at least at the photo’s in magazines), idly flicking through the pages with a handhold that looks like some obscure wrestling hold. Like those people who resemble their dogs, threes people end up looking the same – as though their lives would be better off if they lived inside the pages of a magazine.
He had always been different. I remembered him from primary school. A ‘weedy little chap’ was how I heard the teacher confiding to her trainee. ‘Problems at home’ and they nodded wisely, in unison and said no more. I thought his home life was fantastic. We would go there after school and with the innocence of youth I failed to recognise the peeling walls, the broken floors, the weed-choked lawns. His father was always there, sitting in an old chair in front of the empty fireplace and I never questioned why he was not at work like my Dad. Or why he was so old. Art was different in so much as he sucked his thumb, wet his pants, was always in trouble. But he also was a marvel at making things, at marbles, great at sports, and he was a fighter. No-one would pick a fight with Art because he would fight with a determination and with such endurance that you would literally have to kill him to win. Then his mother disappeared. She, who had provided us with so much amusement, just went from our after school games. Everyone said that she was a loony. At the time I was told that Arts mother had an ‘accident’, and that Art was going to live with his much older brother and his new wife. Art seemed happy enough with the arrangement. Years later the story unfolded in a form that I could understand. The family was dirt poor. But when you are young you don’t recognise these things. Arts father had not worked for years and they lived on a measly benefit that could not possibly provided for the family. To make matters worse, Arts father was a drunk and a gambler. What little money did come in disappeared down his throat or into the hand of Ray the barber who was also a bookie. Ray took money off all the watersiders and unfortunates who thought they could end their miserable existence with a win on the ponies. Arts father was also a wife and child beater, but that was only to emerge many years later when Arts tragic life was made semi-public. Anyway to get back to Art and his story. The family had been struggling more than was usual for them. The beatings had multiplied and Arts mother had reached the end of her tether. There was no food to go on the table. Desperate, and at the end of her tether, she set the table and cut photographs of food from old magazines. After placing the photographs on the plates, she sat the children down and sobbed hysterically while they looked at her, wondering what they should do. She suddenly shrieked and rose up from the table and ran outside. They remained behind contemplating what it was that was bothering mother, and what to do with the photo’s in front of them. She, meanwhile, single-mindedly made her way down to the wharf and without hesitation, jumped in. No-one saw her go, and her body was only discovered later that evening when the father finally alerted the police to his wife’s failure to return and provide him with supper.
I lost touch with Art after we left primary school. He followed his brothers and started work on the wharves. I made my way up the academic and professional ladder and ended up, first, in medicine, and then psychiatry. And that is where Arts story was played out. I was at a case presentation at a conference and a psychiatrist from my old home town was making much of a unique diagnosis that he had attached to one of his long term patients. The more I heard, the more I knew it must be Art.
Art had not worked for long. He seemed to gravitate toward drugs and drink, much like his now long-dead father. He left the wharves and worked or roamed overseas for several years before ending back in our hometown, and with the older brother. The older brother recognised that there was something terribly wrong with Art when he tried to set himself on fire. He had poured a can of petrol over himself as he sat in the very same chair that his father had spent so much time in. He then calmly lit a cigarette and if it wasn’t for the brothers hasty intervention the burning to his face and body would have been much worse. His brother said that Art had become so depressed that he literally couldn’t move. He had been amazed that he had managed to purchase the petrol and make the effort to kill himself. Art was hospitalised for the first of many times. Once in hospital he made significant progress so that he was back out in the ‘world’ again within a month. Then started the familiar routine (to a psychiatrist) of acute admissions followed by lengthy stays and then discharge to a series of placements that rapidly got worse and worse. During his second long hospitalisation, at the age of 25, while he was taking antipsychotic medication, he made his first serious suicide attempt. He had obtained a pass to attend the wedding of a woman whom he had always wanted to date, and several days after the ceremony he took an overdose of Paracetemol and drank a quart of brandy. Art later told his therapist that he was neither depressed nor manic at that time and that he had been taking his medicine while in the hospital.
He made a reasonable recovery and his elder brother, now divorced and living with his defacto partner agreed to take Art in. The defacto partner turned out to be a mixed blessing. Although she was kind to Art, he developed an obsessive attraction to her. He was getting very little sleep, feeling “oppressed” by the intense heat, and started complaining that there was “no privacy” in his brother home. This apparently started after the defacto walked unexpectedly into his room and discovered him masturbating to a picture of her. This triggered a response from the brother to the effect that Art’s time in his house would be curtailed unless he ‘pulled himself together’. Art responded to this by walking into the kitchen and picking up a very sharp knife that the object of his affections had been using to cut tomatoes. He took the knife into the bathroom, and, in his words, “I looked into the mirror and prayed for God to forgive me.” He proceeded to inflict a number of wounds on himself, beginning with his right arm. He reported that the first cut severed his hand. A second slash, to his mid-forearm, was reportedly deep enough to leave the distal end of his arm hanging. A third cut to his upper right shoulder was more superficial. He made a fourth wound by stabbing himself in the bladder, then superficially lacerated his genitals and gouged his right leg. Art reported later that he did not recall feeling any pain while inflicting these wounds.
His brother only visited once in his subsequent hospitalisation, but during that visit Mr. A told him that all he wanted to do was go to sleep and never wake up. His brother looked down at him and replied, “But we were so kind to you and you go and repay us by your filthy behaviour”. Art lost his right arm and walked with a pronounced limp from that day. The medical staff had no explanation for the limp, as he had not damaged any organs that would cause this.
Art deteriorated further. He basically was now living on the streets. After a hospitalisation he would be discharged to a halfway house but he would abscond within a week and he became a feature about the city. He was often found sweeping the streets, directing neighbourhood traffic, attempting to organise a rock concert on the sidewalk, or donating his meagre belongings to passerbys. Often the police would be called out because Art was walking around nude and quoting scripture. It was during one of these episodes that Art made his second sacrifice to what he had started calling ‘His Saviour’. The tragedy for Art was that he performed this amputation in a very public place, so public, that the local authorities called for an investigation of psychiatric outpatient services in the city. Art had wandered down to the wharves, which were undergoing a transformation since the tourist industry had daily cruise ships from al around the globe calling in. Disgustingly wealthy patrons alighted from their berths in the morning and spent huge amounts of money looking around each port and then, returned to the ship and trundled to another port for the next day and a repeat of the same routine. I don’t doubt that there was some significance in choosing the wharf to carry out this deed but Art was so far gone that it could have been pure coincidence. He sat on the edge of the wharf and removed the shoe from his right leg. Before any of the onlooking elite of the planet could stop him he produced a small tomahawk from his coat pocket and with one amazingly anatomically aware blow severed his foot from his leg. He then slumped forward and pitched headlong into the oily waters between the ship and the dock. Unlike his mother he was fished out immediately, the bleeding stemmed, and again hospitalised. This hospitalisation was all the more dramatic as his face and deed appeared in the local press for the duration of the enquiry which, of course, concluded that this was an atypical incident and in no way representative of the excellent services provided by the local health authority.
After the furore died down Art was not much seen in public for a number of years. The presenting psychiatrist described a more sober and discrete lifestyle. Art would occasionally be seen being wheeled into the outpatient department of the psychiatric unit but his behaviour was under much better control. The next time Art did come to the attention of the therapist was when he presented with profuse bleeding from an eye socket in May1997. He had seen an attractive woman in the street and felt guilty about his “lustful thoughts” about her. He had stuck a thumbtack in his right eyelid more than 50 times, completely annihilating the eyeball. When he was asked about this incident, Art replied, “The Bible says that if the eye offends you, then you must pluck it out.”
I approached my colleague after he had summed up the case as an example of predicting self-mutilative behaviour by a combination of behavioural sign and medication compliance. I enquired as to the whereabouts of Art.
“We are having fantastic success with this patient since the case notes I described concluded”, he replied, neither confirming or denying that his patient was Art. “Since his last self mutilation episode he has become very compliant. At the moment we are working through his request to be castrated.” I must have telegraphed my incredulity at this remark more obviously than I thought.
“I am completely comfortable with it. The patients wish for castration is authentic, long-standing, and nonpsychotic in nature. Although the request was thought to be unrelated to delusional beliefs, his overvalued ideas regarding the relationship between sexuality and spirituality seemed unusual, rigid, and intractable. No symptoms of a current, full psychiatric syndrome are present. In explaining his wishes, the patient referred to two scripture passages: ‘If your right hand offends you, cut it off” and “there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.’ The patient has shown mutulative behaviour in his past, but I consider this to be a genuine desire to move out of the trap that he has been in for most of his life. He wishes to become completely asexual and feels that castration will remove temptation from his life. If you recall from my talk, temptation has played a large part in his self mutilations.”
I asked if the doctor was actually going to go through with the castration.
“Oh no! We are working through the issues but it would be ethically and morally impossible for me to actually let the patient be castrated. “
She sat there in her little metal backed chair looking like the roaring in her ears was getting louder and louder. It’s all very unsettling for me. As if I could hijack a plane with a tinfoil strip carrying four Cataflam. And what did she mean by that crack that the little, perfectly formed orange pills bore a remarkable resemblance to Viagra? I can see the frustration on her face and the faces of my fellow passengers as they wait impatiently for this fool to clear security. First it’s the change in my pocket, then my inhaler within its metal container, then my car keys, and still that damn bleeper is still going off. I expect they thought that I should have known about all these little metal items. I feel hamstrung and a large amount of disbelief that I could not have anticipated the effect of terrorism on air travel. It hadn’t crossed my mind that the tinfoil was metallic, and that my inhaler, which I had always perceived as plastic was, in fact, metal. My hands are now shaking uncontrollably which has further incensed the now, team of women, who was scouring my body with a passion that only matches the frantic bleeping of their instruments. Glass case with metal hinges, metal frames on my sunglasses, a paper-clip lodged in the deep recesses of my money pocket (one of the peculiarities of men’s trousers). Finally I, as a gibbering wreck, make it to the comparative safety of my seat. I quickly scan the plane for dark skinned people with flowing robes and turbans but, Flight 450, on this beautiful sunny Sunday morning, is Taliban free.
Then, not five minutes into the flight, a smiling stewardess hands me two beautiful, sharpened, metal weapons to slice pilots and passengers throats, poke eyes out, or cut vital pneumatic hoses.
That swarthy male steward is not fooling me at all! He has an Arab look about him with that pointed nose and sandy stare. The name Anil Prasad on his identity tag is not dissuading me from making him out to be a member of a tiny terrorist faction intent on capturing the plane and flying it into the Beehive. Why, just this morning, on National radio I heard a security expert say that NZ is a prime target as security tightens up in other countries. Terrorists will pick on weaker countries and repeat the lessons of 9/11. I bet, even now, that Mr. Prasad is secretly sweating inside his little green uniform as he anticipates that vital second to seize control of the plane and fly it into the American embassy in Wellington, or maybe an expensive visiting yacht, or maybe a KFC outlet.
And what about that tangata whenau in the beanie, black Levi’s and dirty dogs with the barbed wire tattoo around his neck. Has he been brainwashed by Tania Turea and is now intent on copying his Arab cousins?
Now the intercom is calling out for anyone who has left a set of keys behind in security. Suddenly its upgraded to a pair of Mazda keys. Is this some secret code that only Mr. Prasad can decipher. ‘We have control of the aircraft, Anil. Break out the metal cutlery and overpower the flight crew in the rear of the plane. Anil seems remote and distracted, as if maybe, he’s forgotten the code. Another announcement. ‘Congratulations to the Northland hockey team on their runner up placing out of 24 teams at the National Champs.’ Does this mean that the plan is aborted and will be run again in 24 hours? Or is it that target 24 is to be chosen? My palms have gone all sweaty and I can feel the world starting to spin as I come to the realization that this may be the last moment of my life. Why did I choose to fly? Knowing that I could be brutally plastered against a US made building somewhere hundreds of miles from my own home. I try some cognitive reconstruction but it all sounds like psychobabble.
The pilot’s voice comes on as we descend into thick fog. ‘We are about eighty kilometres south of Wellington and there are a number of planes waiting to land in front of us so we are going into a holding pattern.’ I look out the window and we are indeed flying in thick white soup. Motionless, it feels as though the plane is hanging suspended in a moment of time. I start to think of other scenarios. A nuclear device exploded above-ground or a new electromagnetic type bomb that can be built with bits from Dick Smith and can wipe out all machines and vehicles with electronic monitoring systems. Like large 747 aeroplanes. Maybe this has happened and we are suspended in limbo. A kind of time warp. My mind starts spinning around all the possibilities.
Gradually I forget about terrorists, bombs, Osama bin Laden, and mad dog Bush. Suddenly, another announcement as the plane jerks violently in the air. ‘Ladies and gentlemen we are now descending into Wellington airport. Conditions on the ground are not good. Strong southwest winds, heavy rain and very cold temperatures with very poor visibility. I will approach cautiously but I may have to power up and abort the landing if conditions are too bad. I’ll have a second go and if that fails we have enough fuel for thirty minutes flying so we will have a go for Christchurch airport where conditions are much better. Things could get bumpy, so hang on.’
A collective hush falls over the cabin. We are all confined in the same small tin coffin. We are to be incinerated in a sudden ball of fire or worse, drowned, as helplessly we try to find the flotation device so thoughtfully hidden beneath our seats. Suddenly all thoughts of hijacking by angry Arab terrorists fade into the background as we pitch from side to side and then descend rapidly with a thump. I look below and a cold angry ocean peers back at me, and then I see gloomy Wellington streets as we round the point at Oriental parade and descend toward the airport. The plane drifts sideways and then shudders and shakes. I am aware that my knuckles are white and I have worn a groove in my armrest. My sphincter muscle is working overtime. Clench, unclench. The runway seems to scream up at me and then we are down. A perfect landing and the passenger compartment breaks into prolonged applause and I even notice a small smile of relief on the face of the obviously Indian Anil Prasad.