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Sea of Pain

We are all adrift on a sea of pain, Our beds are boats. Some sturdy vessels. others wracked and tossed on the waves, lit up green or red. The sailors and captains are our nurses, midwives full of love.Every act of care is an act of love; with what reservoirs of patience and positivity do they tend to our comfort, alleviate our pain and dispense life not death. Because this is serious illness post-operative brain damage in the midst of a world pandemic. This ward at the centre of the hospital of Neurology in Queen Square London. is covid free.We are all locked in during lockdown, dealing with being seriously unwell here.

Tyrone, my brother in the next bed to mine, has spinal problems and had an operation that unzipped the back of of his neck to repair sections of his spine with plastic or titanium sections inserted. Can you imagine the pain at his very core? He was up and walking like the undead the same day as hi operation, Released 2 days later he ordered an Uber executive to go home in , in a hurry to get back to work in the building trade. He left us as a Barbadian dressed entirely in black, Black shirt, black jeans, back cardigan, down to black rubber gloves.

Parminder Singh speaks several languages, Hindi, Punjabi, Kikuyu. He was born in Nairobi and has a rare neurological condition that you never heard of that he’s been dealing with since 1985, requiring 3 shunts inserted in brain , spine, to drain fluid & alleviate pressure. He lives in Orpington, Kent, owns an audio/visual repair shop. “Shunt” seems an inadequate word to describe an internal device surgically inserted into flesh & blood.

David ‘the Don” Mason seems to be a life- long wheelchair- bound spina bifida sufferer, with atrophied legs permanently bandaged up with catheter tubes. Both he and Parminder have complicated routines worked out that involve 2 or 3 nurses to lift them up and out of bed or fold them back in to a horizontal position that could provide some comfort or even sleep with adequate opiates. I have nothing but respect for this man and I am so glad I got to tell him that, because he is the warmest , funniest man I have ever met, He charmed the nurses with impeccable manners day or night. We laughed so hard in the face of the darkest moments, threw mint humbugs (Dave~) and baby cheddars(me- long story)at each other’s beds across the ward-

like Grown Men in their late 50’s.

Then there is Paul - I thought he was going to die; a team of 3 top brass neurologists summoned in the middle of the night arrived in 5 minutes to calmly work out was going wrong and fix it. A gay ex-copper Paul worked the beat in Hampstead and out of Harrow road police station. His father built the Titanic and also 18 children; Paul was an uncle to 10 when he was born, Catholic in Belfast.His complex neurological condition requires draining of fluid from the brain. He is connected to a machine that preforms this function automatically for him, but that has an eerily chirpy warning tune when it is about to go wrong. When this happens Paul vomits black stuff we know as bile while emitting the most horrendous primeval howl that could not be further from his frail thin pale self. Max the male nurse who runs our tight ship at night and so kindly came to fetch me back to the ward personally from the Valhalla called the recovery room post-op, said to Paul about the bile being black that yes that was bad, but what you don't want is for it also to be the same consistency as coffee grinds, from his experience (he is 26).

Checking on me the morning after on his ward round, Max asked me how I felt after my operation. I told him I felt like Jamal Khashoggi. “Dead you mean?”he replied cheerfully.

And then there was poor young Ahmad. across the ward from me. He had a tumour on his pituitary gland removed, which meant the surgeon had to go in through his face below the nose to scoop it out.. This is his first time in hospital, his first ever operation. He drank orange juice his mum gave him the day after surgery and promptly projectile vomited blood and snot in a wide arc . In these days of Corona virus spread this display was even more shocking, especially to the brave nurse Aminetta who had to clean it all up.I re-experience this horror like a scene from a movie in slow motion.

What we say most often: “Thank you” and mean it. They say “You’re welcome” as if it is the most natural thing in the world, which of course it is : Mother Earth.

In our dreams our spirits soar above our heads and dance like normal physical specimens do. In our dreams we recover, have sex, travel and live fulfilled lives of quality. Whereas in actuality it is a daily struggle up against an invisible foe which you can not ever win, but just have to get on with it…

At night now there is a deluge outside, like water being thrown down in buckets although its not raining and we seem to be descending into 7th Hell. Somehow we have shifted the entire sea, moved on to another place even though we haven’t, only as a result of a change of shift, of personnel. After a precarious interim in the charge of 2 young Indian lads, we have rocked up in the charge of heroes; large & capable Afro/Caribbean ladies who know what to do at all times: “THERE’S NO SENSE IN SUFFERING” , they say as they laugh and burble delightfully. Joy.

Sound of doors opening and banging shut in the wind on the ward. Someone is knocking on the door but nobody answers.Might be the virus.Trolleys sigh down the corridors. Snatches of overheard conversations: “Is this the infected room?’”My kidneys hurt!””Nothing gets in the way of the breakfast trolley”. TV blares, wind howls, floorboards creak.”Are you struggling?” Always monitoring, gathering data, pulse, bpm, blood pressure, info shared on tablets.

5am the storm has passed, fever chills. I am alive!!! Turn me on, turn me up .I dance around the ward…

(written with pen on paper in the dark 2 days after deep brain surgery)

July 2020

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