Published on April 11th, 2014 | by Boris
THE PRICE – Part Three
My only memory of what happened after I’d been wheeled through a kilometre of corridors to Westmead’s surgery wing was a brief intercourse with two anaesthetists.
Most of which occurred between the two of them, and included terms I could not understand.
I was only consulted when they needed to know if I had been anaesthetised before, suffered from asthma, leprosy or the plague.
Then I woke up in my ward.
All was sweetness and light. And pain.
Florence was sleeping, so I assumed it was daytime.
I discovered later that my surgery had taken two-and-a-half hours, involved 10 pins in my ulna and a plate that looked like a flattened dessert spoon with holes drilled in the wide bit. It also involved some surgical swearing at the radius, which would not co-operate by sitting in the mangled socket it’s meant to sit in. Eventually it was persuaded to do so, but the intricacies of this were never explained to me.
And I really didn’t much care. All I wanted to know was if it was fixed.
“Am I fixed?” I asked the small herd of doctors assembled around my bed.
“Yes,” one of them said.
“Were you the one who operated on me?”
“Who operated on me?”
“Which one of you is he? Or her?”
“None of us.”
I pondered this through a haze of un-nameable chemicals. Anaesthesia is a wondrous thing. Coming out of it leaves you retarded, vaguely contented, and somewhat disturbed.
As a veteran of hundreds of nights spent snorting tequila in outlaw motorcycle clubhouses, I was not unfamiliar with this state of mind.
“Fair enough,” I finally said. “So am I going to be crippled?”
The doctors consulted their notes.
“What about my neck?”
“The C2 fracture is stable.”
“This is good?”
“Yes, this is good.”
They left and Florence woke up.
“What’s going on?” she demanded.
“My C2 fracture is stable,” I advised her.
Then I must have passed out.
I awoke some time later to see my wife, my son and a gaggle of mates standing over me. I was in a neck brace, my arm was in a massive bandaged cast and supported on a gallows sling so that it pointed to the ceiling (which was still moving each time I bothered to look at it), and I felt like I had been beaten by polar bears with steel pipes and hate in their frozen hearts.
Everyone wanted to know how I was feeling.
Everyone wanted to know if I was going to be alright.
“Whose there?” Florence wanted to know. “Where’s the toilet? Nurse?!”
“Don’t mind her,” I said to the people at the foot of my bed. “She’s fucken crazy.”
My son, who is a kind and good-hearted soul looked at me with concern.
“How do you know that, dad?” he asked. “Maybe she just needs some help.”
I looked at him with love, my heart bursting with pride.
“So go help her,” I said.
He walked over to Florence and told her the toilet was just to her left.
“What’s going on?” she yodelled. “Why are the cats there? Why won’t you tell me anything?”
My son came back. He had a crooked grin on his face. He gets that look when his father is proved right against all apparent odds.
In real terms, I didn’t have a lot to talk about to my family or mates. I was very uncomfortable, though not in agony. Painkillers don’t remove pain they simply make you imagine it is somewhat irrelevant. My neck was stiff, and throbbed with a dull beat I tried not to think about.
And I needed to piss.
When everyone left, I felt I would essay the pissing business.
Getting into a sitting position on the bed required much grunting, panting and eye-shutting. But I got there. I reefed the plug that powered the drip machine out of the wall, levered myself to my feet and waited for the hospital to stop spinning. Then like a thousand-year-old man, I shuffled the few metres to the toilet.
A nurse came in and asked me what I thought I was doing.
“Going for a piss,” I said to her through clenched teeth.
“Can you manage?”
“For sure,” I said, not knowing if that was the truth.
But it was.
I even managed to give myself a once-over in the mirror.
Somehow, I looked worse than I did before. My left thigh was entirely purple. My wounded arm was swollen to an astonishing girth, and was equally purple. But what scared me the most was the hunted, empty, almost frightened look in my eyes.
In 35 years of riding, I had never cunted myself up this badly. I’d dodged death by literal millimetres. I had broken Rule Number One big time, and my reflection was full of recrimination, self-loathing and fear. I had been much diminished. And it would be a good while before I could even begin to attempt to repair the damage I had done to myself.
I shuffled back to my bed.
“Who’s there?” Florence asked.
I lay back, closed my eyes and sighed as if all the world’s misery now belonged to me.
Around ten o’clock, Florence started banging her food tray again and making demands about the toilet’s whereabouts.
The same nurse who wheeled her out to the nurse’s station the night before, appeared, unchocked her bed and wheeled her out again.
“How eez your pain?” she asked me when she returned.
“Nine,” I intoned.
Everyone knows that is the correct answer to the pain question.
In hospitals, you are asked to estimate your pain on a scale from one to 10; one being no pain, 10 being unbearable agony. The number you provide dictates the amount of drugs you’ll be given.
“Nine,” is the only response ever.
A few pills later and I was insensate. I was not asleep. But I was not awake. I was just lying there.
Then it was morning. I made another toilet trip, but I avoided looking in the mirror. There was nothing there I wanted to see.
A few more mates dropped in during the day, and I was very grateful for the distraction they provided and for their kind thoughts and wishes.
My cannula burned and ached, but it was pumping industrial quantities of anti-biotics into me, so I manfully fought the urge to chew it from my hand. Infection was still possible.
The doctors arrived at seven am.
“When can I go home?” I asked. This was day three. I was coping, but my accommodating good nature can only be imposed upon for so long. Eventually the screaming would start.
They consulted their notes.
“You’re going to need another 24 hours of antibiotics,” one of them said.
“So tomorrow then?”
“Possibly. More likely the weekend.”
“You do not discharge people on the weekend.”
The doctors consulted their notes again.
“No, you don’t.”
“We’ll try to get you out on Friday.”
“That would be great.”
They left and I went back to my shell of misery and self-reproach.
Then I noticed the weird-looking Indian kid walking slowly past my bed, his eyes luminous and his expression stern. He looked about 15. I had seen him before, but figured he was some kind of vision brought on by Endone.
“Who are you?” I asked, half expecting him to tell me he was my spirit guide, thereby launching me into a litany of complaints about how I had always felt my spirit guide would be a black panther or a blood-drenched Cossack warrior.
He stopped and his eyes bulged wider. I repeated my question.
“I am here for work experience,” he said softly.
“Where is the toilet?” Florence demanded. “Why won’t you tell me what’s going on?”
“How’s that working out for you?” I asked, with a grin.
He fled. I never saw him again.
But I kept seeing the offal that was served up to me three times a day in lieu of food.
Are you people serious?
On what fucken planet is the dreck you foist upon hospital patients considered food? Describing it as “chicken casserole with vegetables” on a sheet of paper insultingly called a “menu” is all well and good, but when you deliver a watery grey melange of sludge instead, I’m left thinking you’re just taking the piss.
I ate it anyway. I had an appetite, so maybe things weren’t all bad. I was also getting the feeling back into the formerly numb fingers of my wounded hand, so that was also a positive development.
That evening, Florence was once again wheeled out to the nurse’s station, and a girl who fell off a horse replaced the Spanish lady who had left during the day. The Turkish lady’s village of visitors still filled the ward with its chatter for most of the day, but at least our nights were free of Florence’s endless imprecations.
I would hover between wanting to smash her skull in with my cast, to wanting to help her find her way out of whatever darkness beset her.
She reminded me very much of my late aunt, who passed away two years ago after also falling and fracturing her hip.
She spent the next six months in hospital dying.
Old people die a lot like that. They are simply not able to mobilise after a fall, and spend the final months of their lives in bed as their bodies start to shut down due to lack of movement. The hospital staff try and try to get them up, and the physiotherapists expend every effort to get them on their feet. But it’s far too often a zero sum game. The old person just gives up. Surrender is, as always, death of one kind or another.
Surrender is also anathema to me.
And this is what I was telling myself as I waited impatiently for the last of the antibiotic drips to finish so that I could leave.
When the machine began to beep its “empty” alarm, I was buzzing the nurse.
“Unhook me,” I said, waving my cannula at her.
She smiled, un-taped it, and drew its hateful fang from my hand.
“Have you moved your bowels?” she asked as my wife helped me struggle into a pair shorts. Getting a T-shirt on was not possible, so I was leaving in my off-the-shoulder hospital gown.
“Yes,” I lied.
I lied because they won’t let you out of hospital until you have moved your bowels. The nursing staff are OCD about this.
Oxycontin and Endone are partially made from cement, so no matter how glorious your bowel movements once were, a few days of necking happy pills will turn your bowel into a fossilised twist of impacted shit. No exceptions.
But that was a problem for Home Borrie.
Hospital Borrie was getting the fuck outta Dodge, obstructed colon or not.
The sun warmed me like a blessing as I shambled outside to the car.
“You OK?” my wife asked.
“Fantastic,” I said. This time I wasn’t lying.
No-one gets better in hospital. You just get fixed in hospital. You get better at home.
My couch embraced me like an old friend.
Only one hurdle remained before my recuperation could begin.
I had not shit in five days, so I resolved to rectify that on Saturday.
The hospital gave me a bag of various drugs and a bottle of this disturbing oily glargh called Lactulose.
“It’s the magic bullet,” the nurse told me when I asked her what it was.
Friday night I glugged some of it down and went to bed.
Mid-morning on Saturday, there were signals being sent from down south. I hobbled into the toilet, sat down and pushed.
It hurt everything to push. My neck screamed and my armed throbbed like a jungle drum being beaten by a Zulu, but I continued to push.
I panted like a dog, and rocked back and forth, thinking that action might somehow dislodge several kilos of processed hospital food out of my distended rectum.
I closed my eyes and pushed harder. There was now a grunting soundtrack in my throat to go along with my rocking.
“Ohgodfuckingjesusfuck!” I blasphemed, sweat now streaming down my face.
Whatever had moved in my lower bowel was not shit as I knew shit to be, but something that felt like solidified gravel, and as I bore down, it moved again. I knew it was peeking from my blurter like some satanic turtle’s head, and this made me moan and wheeze like beaten dockside whore.
“Are you alright?” my wife asked behind the door.
“You sound like you’re dying.”
“I feel like I’m dying, but I’m not.”
“Can I do anything?”
I was on the verge of asking her to bring me a pair of gloves so that I could make an attempt at grabbing the peering concrete turd hanging out of my arse in my fingers and pulling it out manually.
“No. I’ll manage,” I puffed instead.
I rocked again. I bore down as hard as I dared. I cursed. I bargained with various deities. And millimetre by tortuous millimetre the most awful shit in my life eased its way into the bottom of the bowl.
Sweat from my face had drenched the toilet seat. My arse felt like the French navy’s playground. I was cross-eyed in horror and disgust. The stench was poisonous. My wound throbbed and I was scared I had ripped the stitches open.
Did I dare look into the toilet? Did I dare to behold what I had just voided?
Yeah. I dared.
It was about half a metre long and grey. And smooth, like masterfully rendered concrete eel. And it lay there, in the pissy toilet water like the sum total of all damnation. I didn’t dare take a breath through my nose lest I fainted, crashed to the floor and broke all my broken shit all over again, so I mouth-panted and wiped the mess from between my sweat-sheened arse-cheeks.
Now the healing could begin.
I emerged from the toilet in fog of half a can of Glen 20 and a nimbus of triumph.