SIA member, Tim Proctor, worked in the building trade until the onset of his paralysis nine years ago. Stuck at home, living on benefits with no opportunity to return to his previous trade, Tim studied the job ads in the local paper. He realised that if he wanted to work he would have to re-train and that he needed to improve his basic skills. He enrolled on an Open University home-study course, in an attempt to improve his chances of gaining employment. He has been studying with them on a part-time basis for three years now and has completed three courses. He is currently undertaking a creative writing course. Below we publish Tim’s final piece for his current course, which focuses on the early days of his illness, when he was a patient in a general hospital.
I lie in my hospital bed on the thirteenth floor of the Royal Free hospital. It’s Sunday morning, 9th November 1997. Tony Blair is running the country. I’m twenty eight. My name is Tim. I know this because each morning the nurses ask me ‘What day is it?’ ‘Who’s the Prime Minister?’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘What’s your name?’ I think they’re trying to confuse me, as if I don’t have enough on my mind what with just having a tumour removed from my spine, being left paralysed from the waist down and having been stuck on bed rest in the intensive therapy unit for the past seven days.
Today I feel strange; the pain is drowned by the morphine fix but something’s different. I have a dull headache and the lights are too bright. Maybe I’m turning into a vampire?
I’ve been off blood and antibiotic drips for two days which is nice, less tubes and needles in me, I still have a saline drip at night but that’s out while I’m awake. The down side is I have to take forty antibiotic tables daily, along with laxatives, paracetamol and unidentifiable capsules, I’m popping over fifty pills a day.
I joke with Scary Mary, the ward sister, as she injects me, if I could move I’d rattle.
‘Hush your mouth Tomato’. She replies.
Tomato? I’ve no idea why she calls me that, but then if a six foot two, fourteen stone Caribbean Woman in a dark blue uniform smelling of jasmine wants to call me Tomato, who am I to argue?
‘Student!’ Commands Mary. ‘Take his observations, give him his tablets, evacuate his bowl, wash him then give him his breakfast.’
‘Yes Sister’. Replies the nurse designated to help with my ablutions.
I’ve not seen this one before, a good looking girl, curvy, early twenties, short dark hair, pale complexion, soft green eyes but most importantly- slim fingers. Sister Mary gives me her look.
‘Be a good Tomato, I don’t want to have to come back till its time for your next injection’.
‘Something we’re both keen on Sister’. I reply sarcastically.
‘Be nice Tomato, I’m running out of staff for you. If you’re not careful you’ll end up with me every morning’. Mary didn’t look back as she departed the ward.
‘Morning Tim’. The student beams. ‘My name’s Sarah.’ She’s a well spoken girl, I find it reassuring.
‘Morning Sarah, Who’s the Prime Minister?’ I enquire.
She smiles shaking her head slightly, ‘They told me about you.’
‘Has Sister Mary been slandering my good name again?’
She blushes slightly ‘She’s so scary’. She replies softly.
‘She’s a pussy cat, just don’t tell her I said so. ‘Could you turn the lights off please? It’s really bright in here.’
I watch as she walks to the light switch, her pale blue uniform hugs her. Glancing back she flicks the switch. The headache eases, the morphine flows and Sarah smiles. Things aren’t all bad.
‘Is that better Tim? Some patients prefer it with the lights off.’ She states seductively.
‘Thank you Sarah, if only they were all as kind and sexy as you.’
It would appear that Sarah was a live one, unlike the previous few who had since refused to look after me.
Sarah smiles as she approaches my bedside. Gently she places the Velcro strap around my arm and begins to take my blood pressure. After a few moments of silence, she jots down the reading on my clipboard and hands me my cup of tablets. I look into her youthful eyes and saviour a private thought.
‘Hmmmm.’ Sarah raises her eyebrows.
‘Just a couple of E’s this morning please. Dave and I are planning a breakout at lunch time.’
‘Don’t mock, Tim.’ Sarah looks slightly sorrowful.
Dave is one of the other in-mates on my four bed bay. I glance over and see he’s still there. He has machines to do the strenuous things in life for him; like breathing. The left side of his skull has been removed, all that remains is a flap of skin slowly rising and falling as his ventilator breathes. It appears someone has taken an ice cream scoop, removed a chunk of his brain and hidden it with his scalp. The other two are fresh meat and won’t be talking for a few days, if they ever do. I talk to Dave, he can’t talk back.
I take my pills with luke warm water, not aware of swallowing. I’m sidetracked by the two yellow soft bullets and tube of KY jelly on the kidney tray beside my bed. Almost time to be analy invaded again; hopefully I’ll get a result this morning. I haven’t managed anything since the operation and there really is no room left in Hell. One thing’s for sure- when it all goes off, it’s going to be messy.
Sarah speaks softly, I know the routine. She positions my right ankle over my left, secures my torso and smoothly rolls my hips placing an incontinence sheet in the drop zone. Efficiently she inserts two suppositories inside me.
‘You realise this is saving me a fortune Sarah. Extras like this costs me a pony in the real world; literally.’
‘Hold still Tim’. Sarah giggles. ‘Or I get Mary back!’ She leans over and grins. ‘I’ve got to go and wash Dave, I’ll be back in thirty minutes; if anything happens before that ring the bell and Ill sort you out’.
‘If anything happens before that, I think the smell will tell before the bell gorgeous’.
Sarah shakes her head and smiles. As she departs my cubicle her thigh brushes past the magic curtain that gives one absolute privacy. Her figure seems slightly distorted, but she looks good to me. A wave of nausea hits from the morphine and I feel the headache fighting back.
Sarah duly returns but I have no present to offer. She listens as my life pours out, comforting, caring. She massages my stomach; her attempts to stimulate my bowel reflex are rewarded. The lucky, lucky girl.
I feel a mixture of relief and guilt as seven days of confusion poor out. Sarah washes me, change’s my linen, all with careful precision while I’m in the bed. As she works I drift, not entirely asleep or awake, hiding or fighting. I should feel better after unloading my problems on Sarah, but I feel worse. I can’t face eating, my headache is now a migraine and her body has a haze around it. I can’t remember what colour her eyes are, all I see is her blurred face. I must be overdosing on morphine and pills; or going blind, this is a bad one.
‘There we go Tim, all sorted. You should feel better now after clearing out like that.’ She offers me a toothy grin. ‘I’ll be back in ten minutes to take your temperature, it’s up a bit. If you need anything just ring the bell, okay.’
‘Sarah?’ My voice sounds distant and hoarse.
I look at Sarah but can’t focus, above her I see glowing white ceiling tiles as black dots appear on them.
‘Tim. Are you okay?’
At first they’re random but they become regimented, black dots in perfect lines forming square patterns all over the ceiling. Grey shadows swirl above me in and around the dots making them rotate. Slowly at first, but they gather momentum. In the shadows, small triangular shapes form in pure white.
‘Tim, listen to me. Tim, look at me please.’
I try to focus on Sarah. It’s just the drugs I tell myself. Be head strong, Concentrate.
‘What’s happening?’ My confusion takes over and I panic. Sleep or wake? I choose wake and steam into fight mode.
‘Tim. You’re hurting my arm let go, listen to me Tim.’ Her voice demands respect, I let go.
The white triangles spin uncontrollably from all around, culminating in the ceiling centre forming razor sharp teeth. A shadow falls over the teeth forming a caricature of a person, all the time swirling above me. The black dots are now pulsating, expanding and contracting, faster and faster. Each time expanding more, before shrinking to the size of a penny as the ceiling spins. The grey shadows with their white teeth dive at me, snapping at my forehead tearing flesh from my skull. The howling wind is gushing in and around my ears. I’m being sucked out of my bed, drawn into the swirling black dots. All the time the shadows attack, they bite at my head, then divide in two as they rejoin the swirling black dots. Only to dive and divide again as they screech and wail.
People are in the ward now. I hear Sarah talking in the distance. I see faces standing over me, their coats as white as the shadows teeth. Someone leans right into my face, talking, all I see are shadows.
The pulsating black dots are at critical point, the energy created is too much and the ceiling is transformed from a swirling mass into a black vortex sucking me in. I’m held in flux as the shadows attack my body from all angles. They dive at my legs, their white teeth locking around my lower limbs. One takes my right ankle, another my left thigh, their razor sharp teeth draw no blood. Tauntingly they meld into my flesh.
I see them inside my legs, turning my blood grey as they swim inside my mind. Unmercifully they bite and tear, this is too much. I try to scream, but as I open my mouth a dozen or so screech toward me, intent on slamming into my throat. I lock my jaw; that’s not going to happen. The vortex growls and the shadows snarl in contempt of my resistance. Relentlessly they dive, entering me through my catheter. They sweep under me, seeping through the drain in my spine. My unprotected ears and nostrils are like a lamp to moths. I burn as the shadows pound into me, through every orifice, invading my prone body.
‘Tomato.’ Booms Mary. ‘We are going to help you. You have to listen to the doctors. Do you understand?’
‘Yes.’ I reply knowing Mary will sort them out.
The white coats move in. Touching me like the shadows, they turn me onto my side.
‘What are you doing to me?’ My voice is jaded.
‘Keep Still. We need to perform a lumber puncture.’ A white coat replies.
‘What, What the?’ My mind flickers from shadow to reality.
‘Tomato, Be still boy.’ Mary demands. ‘They’re going to insert a needle into your spine. They need to extract some fluid from around your spinal cord. Don’t move.’
I freeze, unable to comprehend what’s happening I let the shadows tear through me. The doctors voices echo around my mind as they go about their experiment. I hear a popping noise and I’m told I’m doing well. Mary tells me she is giving me an injection. I dive toward the shadows, fists flaying as I slip into unconsciousness.
My eyes open and I look at the cream ceiling tiles. Funny, I’m sure they were white. The black spots and shadows, like my headache, are gone. Normality has returned. I am aware of movement, rotating my eyes left I see Sarah, she smiles.
’Hello.’ She greets.
Next to her is my antibiotic drip. I follow the tubes, they lead into my left hand. Turning my head to the right I see I’m plugged into the saline again. I check the family jewels and feel the catheter; I see the drain from my spine hanging down beside my bed. Finally I realise I have an oxygen mask on.
‘Bugger it. I’m still in hospital.’ I state, my voice muffled by the mask.
‘I need to get the ward doctor Tim. I’ll be back in a moment.’
Sarah returns with the ward doctor. He stands at the end of my bed flicking through my chart while Sarah removes my oxygen mask.
Mr. Proctor, you gave us a bit of a scare yesterday morning. You contracted meningitis.’ The big nosed doctor informs.
‘I didn’t realise it was available on the NHS.’
‘Quiet. Quiet.’ his nose twitches. ‘We picked it up quickly, you’re fine now. The nurse will explain.’
I glance to Sarah who crosses her eyes. The doctor departs and Sarah sits beside me.
‘Are we sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.’ Sarah tells me my bed time story.