And treat those two imposters just the same ....
IF, Rudyard Kipling
2.1 ....its life Jim, but not as we know it....
After a night in the admissions ward I was moved into an acute care bed. Things went on round me. Plastic tubes entered my arm and came out of my willie. Various electrodes, taped to my body in places guaranteed to hurt a lot when the sticky patches were removed, connected me to monitors. People moved around, sometimes they actually bent over my body, poked and prodded a bit and made notes on their clipboards before moving on. Pills and potions appeared regularly. There were some grey tablets with an orange stripe that would have sold for £15 each on any inner - city street corner and various others that did not have any mood altering qualities but perhaps worked in a more subtle way. Unaware of the passing of time as I woke for short periods, I was constantly reassured to see Teri by my bed. We spoke from time to time she tells me, but an inability to concentrate prevented me making much sense. At one point she told me she was waiting to hear if a possible move to another hospital with a specialist neurological unit was to take place. Doctors thought an operation might be necessary to drain the escaped blood from the skull cavity. Results of a brain scan had been faxed and the neurologists at Preston were looking at it. Faxed? The image output from a brain scan.? I was outraged and gave one of the staff nurses detailed instructions that the digitised image data from the scan should be collected on hard disk, processed into a TIF or JPG format file using a graphics package and sent via an Ethernet / ISDN bridge or router link or as an Internet mail attachment. Good grief! Was I safe in the hands of these people? Everybody knows a fax image is only about a hundred dots per inch resolution donít they?. At least seven hundred dots per inch are needed to get anywhere near photographic quality.
I used to be, still was at that stage I suppose not having fully realised everything had suddenly changed, a telecommunications systems specialist. The last contract in this career, was the implementation of an advanced communications network at Karolinska Sjukhuset (Hospital or literally sickhouse, I love the economy of the Swedish language), Stockholm, reputedly the biggest healthcare campus in Europe. Two things the Swedes take very seriously are healthcare and spending taxpayers money. Our Anglo - French project team had loads of money to spend on all the latest toys. No clockwork fax machines or steam powered computers for us. I was used to better technology than the UK's National Health Service are likely to get for many years. The response to the hospitalís fax eventually came. It was good news The burst artery was showing signs of starting to heal and the spare blood sloshing around in the brain cavity had done its damage and would eventually disperse. There was no need to cut off the top of my head and look inside. Thinking, "oh well, thatís all right then," I went back to sleep.
2.2 ....food, glorious food....
On waking several hours later and looking around I was puzzled to see plain walls, unfamiliar colours and strange furniture, this was neither my bedroom at home nor a room in the Reisen Hotel on Gamla Stan island, the Swedish capitalís old town. Iíd forgotten for a moment where fate had brought me but some switch in my head clicked back on and from then I knew what was going on at least.
Unfamiliar noises and unappetising but foody smells permeated the confusion of becoming aware. My body felt strange so I tried a few tentative movements. The whole left side did not seem to be there. By turning my head I could see my arm. Looking down the length of the bed the shape of my left leg was visible under the cover. But there was no feeling and neither of them moved when told to. My wife was sitting in an uncomfortable looking chair by the bed. Seeing I was awake she squeezed my left hand. I felt nothing and when she let go the arm dropped limply, heavily onto the bed. Teri was saying something to me. Prompted by the word food the hungry switch clicked on. Recollections of being brought into the hospital and the few hours before assembled themselves. Slowly memories gelled into understanding of what had happened. I started to explore my body testing the extent damage. Everything seemed to be in place yet a sensation of incompleteness accompanied the lack of feeling on the left side. It was weird.
The source of the foody smells was revealed when a nurse approached the bed pushing a trolley laden with pinkish, heat retaining trays.
"Are you ready for some breakfast today.?" she asked. "You should try and eat a little if you can manage it."
" Breakfast time already, any chance of a bacon sandwich?" I asked, hoping for my usual Saturday morning indulgence."
Teri explained that there might be difficulty in swallowing solid food and porridge would be a better option until we knew the exact state of my system.
The nurse brought a tray bearing a bowl of greyish gloopey stuff, a "soft brown roll" with "low fat spread" and marmalade. I must have looked quite disappointed because as an extended table was arranged over the bed my wife told me "Ian, its actually Tuesday. Youíve missed your Saturday morning Bacon Sarni for this week."
The menu was full of healthy options of course. Lots of salt - filled cereals. White sugar to sweeten them. Soft Brown Rolls in abundance (they were good), exploding croissants that shattered into a zillion crumbs when bitten or white sliced bread accompanied by "low fat spread" and a choice of jams, marmalade or honey (but they were always "out of honey today.") Donít the pretensions of medical people make you laugh? Low fat spread, for heavenís sake. It is margarine, made from 100% fat, there is nothing low fat about it. Most margarine is vegetable oil mixed with water at extreme temperature, about the closest thing outside the human body to the stuff that clogs up our arteries. The only thing that makes it low fat is the fact that nobody would want to eat much of it.
"A lot of people are not impressed with the food," the nurse said with a been - through - this - a - thousand - times sort of smile. "But its not so bad really. The kitchens have a difficult job catering for a big hospital like this." I dutifully ate my porridge and reflected that the kitchen had thought the job too difficult and given up trying. When I eventually feal ready to tackle the bacon on offer it quickly convinced me the healthy options were really much healthier. Cyanide might have been so too.
Breakfast finished with, the victim was washed and groomed and left for a while. Our daughter arrived to take Teri home for a shower, some food and a session with the quilt. She had been at the bedside for most of the past seventy two hours and needed a break. I had my first session of counting the ceiling tiles. Ceiling tiles in hospitals are very interesting but even so one can only count them a certain number of times before the fascination pales. Sitting up in bed proved beyond me and from a prone position even looking around the ward was impossible. My balance was gone because the section of brain that dealt with it was not getting any feedback from the messages it sent to the left side muscles so I could not even sit up.
A bleeper button was placed on the left and out of reach of my right arm. Nurses are crafty like that. They have to be, theyíre so overworked. Time dragged until Teri arrived back. It was perhaps mid - afternoon but the screens were drawn around the bed (which was not a good sign) and nothing was visible that gave an indication of the passing of time. I was in a small side ward with some other who men looked as if they were in an even worse state - but I hadnít seen myself at that point.
2.3 Ö.it had to be me, unlucky meÖ.
Shortly after my wife returned the consultant came to the ward and spoke at some length to her. The prognosis was not good. There was no immediate danger but my blood pressure, one of the craziest levels the hospital had encountered apparently, was defying attempts to control it. As for the future, the pressure in my brain which was causing a number of problems would ease as the haemorrhaged blood was absorbed by whatever does that kind of thing; the doctor was confident that they would find out what was causing the blood pressure to hit record levels and there would be some improvement in my condition. He was very vague about how far recovery would go but warned that we should resign ourselves to the possibility of spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair, having little use in my left arm or leg and needing to be looked after constantly. He then gave us a lot of generalisations about stroke patients. There were some remarkable recoveries on record, he said, but it was unusual for anybody so badly damaged to return to anything like their normality. Then, piling one generalisation on top of another, he carried on to talk about the personality changes that would occur, how "stroke patients" experience feelings of anger and resentment, tend to brood and think "Why me?" vent frustrations upon loved ones and become depressed, possibly bursting into tears for no apparent reason or sitting staring at nothing for long periods. The man did not know me so he could not have intended to arouse the rebellious spirit, but he could not have done a better job had he been trying. Even Mr. Bland had never provoked such a determination that I would not do what was expected of me. Later I thought about the situation logically for the first time. It was not a case of Why me? but Why not me? The thing was, it was me; paralysis was my problem, and no amount of asking why would change that. I had to find a way to deal with it.
Knowing my relationships with Doctors have always been uneasy, Teri quietened me. As the doctor droned on I told myself, "you didnít die and youíre still thinking, youíve beaten the system already. Now show this muppet what you can do." I resolved not to become depressed, get angry or resentful, or start hitting people - the idea of being able to hit people I didnít like without fear of reprisals did have a certain appeal though. Also, I would not blame anybody or anything for what happened to me. Who or what was there to blame? Myself? A burst artery? God? Life? Tony Blair. Well looking back some people could have done much better for me than they had but it was likely I had contributed to the problem myself in some ways, the artery certainly had a lot to answer for but which artery and where. What an artery look like anyway? Was God to blame? Is God a being at which one can point a finger and say "Oi, you! What are you playing at? The kind of belief that makes God a scapegoat for all our failings is fine for some people but personally, although I canít discount some kind of supra - galactic energy (The Force?) I am much happier taking responsibility for myself than leaving my fate in the hands of some unknowable but seemingly capricious Superior Being. The only thing to do was accept what had happened, learn as best I could how to help myself and get on with fighting back.
Literature Teri had been given by a Stroke charity described the psychological problems which often follow brain injury so I did not tell anybody that I was waiting for OBI WAN KENOBI to rescue me and teach me to use The Force, the serious little people who run hospitals would not have understood. There was no point in trying to make sense of what had happened; that weekend somebody had to win the lottery and somebody had to become paralysed. Guess who was still going to have to buy lottery tickets. Life is like that so anger and resentment were futile. Having always risen above the temptation to envy lottery winners and think "Why him and not me?" I was not now going to look at healthy people now and think "why me and not him." Whilst not being angry or resentful I still found room to be scared stiff of the what the future held, disgusted when contemplating what seemed to be a wrecked body and above all desperately alone, despite being fussed over by my family, cared for by medical staff and surrounded by people in a similar situation.
2.4 Ö.got a whole lotta money thatís ready to burnÖ.
The routine of Hospital life became settled. For a few days it was a cycle of pills, food, sleep, more pills but into the second week some alertness began to return. As well as my own immediate family, my mother, brothers, sister and many friends had visited in the early days. Even so the boredom mounted despite peopleís efforts to interest me in anything..
One afternoon, Teri reminded me that it was early June and the Derby horse race would take place the following weekend. (Elder sibling of the Kentucky Derby)
"Benny The Dip," I dropped the words on her toes out of the blue.
"What?" she said.
"Benny The Dip?"
"Heís a horse, heís going to win." we exchanged. My interest in horse racing was inherited from my grandfather and father. They weaned me on doubles and trebles, accumulators, stop at a winner bets and the relative merits of win only or each - way wagers. As age had weakened my knees and strengthened my bank balance I was forced to give up running but able to indulge myself by joining a small syndicate that had interests in several horses. One of the things learned from racing professionals was that horses with a certain kind of galloping action have an advantage at the Epsom course. Benny The Dip had stood out when running in two year old races the previous summer and all through the winter I had intended to have a substantial bet. Teri refused to put a big bet on for me, she knew how exciting it can get when the money is down on a horse involved in a tight finish. Excitement was the last thing I needed. A small Black and White TV was brought in and placed on the bedside table to enable me to watch the race and all the doctors nurses were been advised to back the horse. They were impressed with my enthusiasm and thought my recall of details about racing in general was a good sign. I hope they trusted my judgement, because the Benny the Dip won at a good price, by a short head after a thrilling neck and neck race with a colt called Silver Patriarch over the last half mile.
Feeling unbelievably smug, on seeing the first sign that something of my former life was at least within reach I pushed myself up from the supporting pillows into a full sitting position, shouted "Yeeessss!!!!" and punched the air." The muscles in my left side were gone completely. Balance was still non existent and my body tumbled sideways Teri caught my head just before it could bang on the metal cot - side of the bed.
Two years earlier, one of the syndicatesí horses, Up In Flames had won a lesser race at the Derby meeting so watching the triumphant horse led to the winners enclosure was more personal to me than to many television spectators.
"Benny the Dip" was my second small triumph, but it did bring home the seriousness of my condition. Up until then Teriís wish to talk about the financial problems we would face had been brushed aside by with a statement that I would be back at work by New Year. While not truly believing New Year was a realistic target, I did think the whole thing could be shrugged off, willpower and determination would get me back to normal in a few months. The whole situation was ridiculous. Things like this did not happen to me!
Suddenly, watching the crowd cheering home the Derby winner the reality of the situation hit me. Unless there was to be some sort of miracle I would never again be among a crowd cheering home a winner at any race meeting. The feeling was akin to what a Mafioso might feel when kissed on the lips by an elderly male member of his family, or hit in the face with a big dead fish or whatever they do in real life. My confidence was then deflated by my success but that perhaps is the essence of what makes recovery so hard in the early days. Even the triumphs only serve to remind us of how far our lives have been transported from what they were.
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