A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

Archive for hospitals

The Photo

The Photo


“You have been in a bad accident. Your car hit another car at high speed. You have been bought to the local hospital in Alexandra. It is Tuesday. The accident happened on Sunday. Do you understand?”

I saw her through a fog. She had beautiful eyes, but what she was saying didn’t make complete sense. All I remembered was that we were on holiday.

“Where is my wife?”

The fog swirled and I saw her recede back for a moment and brace herself.

“Your wife died in the accident. From her injuries I can say with some certainty that she died instantly.”

The photo was in black and white, almost sepia. As I rolled to a more upright position, I marvelled at how I had managed to capture the soft light of the morning and highlight all her natural beauty. She was seated in a low chair with the morning sun coming in over her shoulder. Part of her face was in half shadow but the other half was lit brightly. It accented the small moles on her cheek and neck and the soft down of hairs on her face. She was looking off into the distance with a melancholy expression, as if half awake but also aware that she was being photographed. The soft rays of light highlighted dust motes as they swirled in the air. To the back of the photo the tall, narrow, shuttered windows lent a prison like quality to the photo. I had taken it in black and white because I had become bored with colour and I had a spare camera I could keep loaded with a special new film that could be developed using the colour process. The photo must have been taken a few weeks before she died.

I am usually an emotionless man. My few friends describe me as ‘stable’ and ‘secure’. Yet, this has thrown me. I have gone from that state to being in limbo over the course of twenty dramatic seconds. Twenty seconds that have changed my life forever. I have lost my partner. I won’t get corny and call her my soul mate but we shared twenty years of life together and it’s as if an internal organ has been wrenched, still beating, from my breast. I watched her die. In saw her take her last breath on this earth. She was looking at me at the time and it was almost as if she smiled as the life left her. I remember I was trying to touch her hand at the time but my legs were trapped beneath the dash and I couldn’t wriggle my body over to her side of the car. If I had known at the time that I had irreparably damaged my left leg so that it would have to amputated a week later I would have taken the risk and just torn through the remaining muscle and skin and made that last, final, gesture. But I was also suffering a head injury and wasn’t thinking straight. In fact, this morning, looking at her picture is my first morning of fully realising what has happened.

The doctor spoke in clichés.

“It could be worse. Tomorrow is another day. After the rain comes a rainbow. Cheer up, it’s not the end of the world. At the end of  the day, life goes on. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and think of the positive things that could come form this.”

My head hurt, and not only form the accident. What I wanted was for her soft touch, her soothing voice. I wanted a cool hand to touch my forehead and tell me to close my eyes. I wanted the sound of screaming brakes and tyres, twisted metal and the smell of hot blood to leave me. When I look back on it, I wanted out. I wanted to die. I looked over at the photo again. I was glad it was black and white. The world beyond the shuttered window swirled with a thick mist that bunched around the top of the hills. The occasional patter of rain could be heard on the roof of the hospital. The world seemed to have gone to sleep.

As I woke the next time, I could hear the sounds of early morning traffic. In a past life, I would have been gently shaking her awake, asking if she wanted tea before we showered and made our way to work. The single bed not only felt foreign, but an insult to the last twenty years. A bird, imitating the sound of a telephone, shrilled for a number of seconds. A truck rolled past, vibrating the building and reminding me that life, indeed does go on. The clichéd doctor appeared again.

“Leg still hurting? Pain is nature’s way of telling you, you are still alive. Chin up.”

I rolled over, away from the photo and the inane whine of his voice.

Sunlight streamed through the open window. I must have slept through the morning. I felt my leg but then, remembered that it had gone. I felt the pain of its presence and absence. I closed my eyes. I drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the day.

I had rehearsed what I wanted to say. I had gone over and over it, in my mind, s if committing it to paper. It was to be my supplication.

There are many problems facing health care today and each is worthy of its own six pages of news column space, letter to the editor, or more, but I have four minute, four minutes of your one hour ward round, so I must choose my one problem, for this one day, for this single utterance, while my weakened voice and intellect lasts, and until my two hands and now one leg allow me to summon all my communication skills, so alone in this hospital and now, in this world half-a mile north of the road that leads to my own little world make my one plea, and that one request, this moment, this interview, this instance, will be the that someone talks to me as if I am a human being, a human being who has lost his wife, who has probably murdered her in a moment of distraction, who has lost part of his own body, who needs someone to stop talking to him as if he were a child.

They arrived. Eager young eyes bristling, reading the grisly details of the accident, reading, and looking at the ravages done to my body. The cliché-ridden doctor explained my case. I started to talk – to give my speech.

“Well,” he interrupted, staring into my eyes for the first time, “ Tell us how you feel.”


Social Skills Training

I sit slightly on the periphery of the circle of three men trying to show that I want to be part of what is to happen, but also to let it be known that I expect them to do the bulk of the work. Henderson is the natural leader of the group because of his height and his exotic background. He is from the Caribbean, and despite his pronounced speech impediment, he has that lazy rolling speech that makes that culture so alluring. He has been variously diagnosed as a schizophrenic, an obsessive, and borderline psychotic, but he has come to me because of a head injury sustained in a street brawl. Across from Henderson is Roderick. Now Roderick is an interesting chap. He is a retired University professor who has rather than fallen from grace, taken a huge leap. He has been found sleeping on a park bench, unwashed, unshaven, and unloved, barely coherent. He has been medicated back to relative civilization but he has the tendency to fall into sudden mood swings and speak with copious quantities of spittle flying from his mouth. From Roderick there is only a low mumble as he stares at the floor and recites a poem from an obscure and largely unread 18th Century poet. The third member of our little circle is Peiter. As you could guess from the spelling of his name Pieter is from Germany. He is outrageously and rather ashamedly gay. The purpose of his presence in our little group is for Pieter to come to terms with his homosexuality in the presence of other men.

I start. “I think it would be a good stepping off if we first introduced ourselves and told each other something about ourselves. Something that we might not ordinarily share with others. Take a risk.”

There is an ominous silence as each concentrates on the frayed carpet in our dayroom. Too my surprise Henderson is the first to speak.

“My name is Henderson – ,” he starts off but it doesn’t exactly sound like that.
“Roderick leaps in “Did you say Hyacinth. What sort of faggot, queer name is that. Your parents must have really, really hated you to give you a name like that. Is that how you got that black eye, queer boy?”

“He didn’t say Hyacinth, you stupid old fart, he said..”

Before the words are out of his mouth Henderson has leapt up form his seat and attacked Roderick who, in turn, is flailing his way towards Pieter, who is trying to escape from both of them, tears in his eyes.

They fall to the floor with a series of grunts and bangs and, within seconds, my little group of three are in full combat. I have only one option and I hit the panic button and, within the space of a few more seconds, the orderlies have removed the tranquillised combatants to their rooms.

I sit and survey the leftover battlefield. A solitary red slipper, probably Pieters, sits; the sole reminder of what could have been.