The first time I wrote about my accident
January 24, 2013 § 1 Comment
This is the first time I wrote about my accident — for a blog post on Intelligent Life. Actually, that’s a lie. This is the first time I wrote about my accident. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but perhaps it belongs on here.
After I’d been in hospital for a few days, people starting saying to me, “You must be looking forward to going home.” The nurses said it on their rounds. Relatives wrote it in emails. Friends said it on Skype.
The truth was, I didn’t want to go home. Here in my hospital bed life had taken on its new, legless rhythm. The lights went on at some godforsaken hour of the morning, five, half-five. It took me a few days to realise that the early start was to prepare us for the residents’ rounds. We were woken by strip lights flickering on, then festooned with bedpans, flannels and bowls of warm water to wash, and given trays of tubs containing liquids and mush for breakfast. A man came to empty catheter bags. Ward assistants grudgingly answered patients’ bed alarms. The staff spoke more to one another than to their charges, which was fair enough. My conversation wasn’t up to much.
Then the doctors would sweep through the ward – five or six of them together, always in packs. Handsome, bright-eyed young men, for the most part. They stopped at the foot of each cot and peered in. Sometimes one would ask a question, but more often they’d exchange comments about treatments and move on, barely stopping at all, not even looking at my face. I always wished they would stay a while. On the last morning, after my surgery, my favourite resident ran his index finger across the tops of the toes on my left foot and smiled at me. The thought of it occupied me for hours.
Once the residents were gone, you were clean, and fed, and very awake, and it was six in the morning. Six in the morning! The last time I was up and fed at six in the morning I was catching a longhaul flight. And now here I was, facing my new fate, half-naked in a hospital strip, at six in the morning. That’s a lot of day to fill.
But somehow it passed. I learned early on that I was too cracked out on painkillers to read, and my diary reveals morphine dreams recorded as readily as my reality in the ward, the sentences trailing off each time I fell asleep. I must have slept a lot. I played with the electronic bed controls, making myself an armchair of pillows, or rearranged my gifts on one of those tables you can slide right over the top of the bed. Small things, like going to the toilet, took an incredible amount of time. First you’d think of the thing, then hit the bell to request help, then move yourself in inches, bum-first, across the bed to wherever the nurse was holding the commode still. At first they tried to get me to use a bedpan, but I put paid to that because some of the ward assistants weren’t very attentive and I’d spent terrifying moments one morning yelling for a nurse who’d disappeared while I was doing my business, leaving me crab-like over a bedpan for almost-longer than my arms could bear me, inches from sitting in my own piss. Small mercy, perhaps, that I never did a number two. The morphine put an end to that.
They brought lunch at eleven, and dinner around four. I never ate anything that appeared on the tray. You wouldn’t have, either. I was lucky. I had grapes and home-made muffins from the huge stash of food that grew with every visit. My friends came bearing bagels, or offering to run out for soup. Seeing them reminded me of my old life, which reminded me of my new life, where meals came too early, and sleep at every hour, and time was measured in the gaps between plastic thimbles full of pills. It reminded me that the parameters of this new world were just the size of a large, remote-control-operated hospital bed.
I was fine with that. I didn’t want to go home. I was terrified of the pain that woke me every other hour of the day and night, hammering right through my consciousness, and unconsciousness, leaving me sobbing pathetically, clutching this tiny stuffed horse one of my friends bought me. I learned that there are different types of pain. The multicoloured burn of nerves flashing alive as local anaesthetics wore off. The maddening pressure of bones smashed and shaken from their sockets and then screwed back together with bits of metal. The sting-and-itch of skin sliced open by scalpels and sewn back in place. They put me on a drip and hooked me up to a catheter, and I was just a limp-looking thing between the two bags of liquid that hung off either end of the hospital bed. When, dignity-drained, I shrieked loud enough, they pumped in morphine, but I don’t remember the relief. I only remember the moments when it wore off, and slowly I would start to register again the different types of pain.
At home, there would be no one to fix me drug cocktails when I wailed. At home, I’d have to find new ways to go to the toilet, without a grumpy ward assistant to pull the curtain and hold the commode. At home, I didn’t have trays of food to refuse.
At home, I’d have to face up to the fact that my old life was long gone.