Archive

Monthly Archives: October 2014

When I was locked away in the UFO-shiny, lily-white porcelain depths of Vivante’s Spandau Hospital, I was very often so afraid I’d never sgain see the light of Australian day – and, after seeing how mentally distressed the “long term” patients were (this included the bizarre Screaming Man) I began to systematically lie to the nurses and pretend that everything was much better than it really was.

“No,” I’d wince, painfully stretching out my legs, “everything’s fine, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Part of this involved making up memories from scratch and hoping like hell they wouldn’t notice or ask anyone else in my family. At a certain point, I became convinced they’d force me to stay because my memory was playing up. This intense fear came at about the same time my brain started really playing hookey: I have very little (intensely cloudy) memory of before my time in hospital and even my time in hospital seems bizarrely like remnants of stories friends had once told me when I hadn’t been listening; at the time, when I’d say something and it’d be correct it never felt right right but more like I was (rather cloudily) stumbling onto the correct answer.

Now, with doctors that wholly understand my situation, I’m finding myself quite unable to lie, although they assure me my memory’ll get better with time (and that it has a name – “Post Traumatic Amnesia”, it’s called).

“We’ve got the X-Rays and that’s not consistent with the contusions on the right side of your brain,” one might say. “So, try again.”

But despite their brutal honesty, I’m trying as hard as possible to do what they ask and please them, given they’re the ones who’ll eventually give me a clean bill of health.

“Good job,” one in particular has said after assessing me. “We’ve assessed writers before – there’s a whole bunch of work to do on you. Not a lot, but still a bunch. You’ll get better though.”

It’s hard, as it were, to subside on the thought that one day I’ll eventually be okay enough to see through both my eyes and, indeed, walk again. About a month ago, sheer determination and refusal to give up were enough for me. Now, no longer. Although at one point they were, I am starting to realise that simply demanding of myself to “be okay” isn’t and won’t be enough, and it’s hard to know what will be  enough. On the plus side, I’m still able to process enough to write of my own accord, and, strangely, my brain seems determined to write comedy – there’s evidently been enough sadness for me lately.

I’ve seen only a handful of people since I’ve returned to Australia, all my own decision.

Each time I’ve seen someone new, without fail: “Oh,” they’ve simpered. “but you simply have to make it a play! You tell it so well!”

A Car Crash In Germany’s Capital, we’ll call it, I’ve thought each time, genuinely unsure as to how to respond. How would you even represent a drunk car crash on stage without it coming off as insane and naff?

“We can use shadow puppets,” my dear friend Emma breezed, confused as I. “And actual puppets, too. Hand puppets! I’ll be sa deep.”

“It’s ok,” Mum smiled when I expressed confusion and derision at the idea my crash should become a play. “You’re just too close to it to think of any ideas.”

I remember:

– lying strapped in an Ambulance bed from Spandau to a mystery clinic with an enraged testicle the size of a fresh avocado, on a drip, out of my mind slurring Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” as the Ambulance zoomed down darkened side streets.

– lying curled up on my parents’ bed on a heated Winter morning clutching protectively a book the size of my whole face (Lord of the Rings) and reading it out, giving every character a fun and sassy character voice.

– five incredibly drunk homosexuals – including myself – dancing joltily around Collingwood’s The Peel bar to Lady Gaga’s “Marry The Night,” ignoring the irony that nobody involved could marry anything at all.

– what I had for breakfast: a diet shake, banana and coffee sludge combination that visually came off strangely like cartoon Jellyfish excrement but tasted, thankfully, a-okay.

– not what I was doing around the time I was hit, beyond the actuality of being hit.

It is dark, and I am strapped into bed, heart pulsating a million times a minute.

“Hey!” the Nurse above me spits. Her face is a grotesque mix of mumps and measles curled out towards me and it makes me sick. “Hey!” she repeats. Like lightening, she reaches out and punches me squarely in the stomach. I double up in pain.

“Let me go,” I whine, and she laughs, hocking a loogie into my exposed eyeball as she does so.

“Let me go,” she whines back at me in a thick German accent, before reaching down with an ursine hand to slap me across the face.

That’s it. I need to escape.

When her back is turned I manage to slide out of bed and totter towards the doorway and freedom, almost crying with happinesss.

“No!” she barks and her leg shoots out to trip me over. Accordingly, my escape is ruined, and I topple over, falling in bizarre slow motion towards the ice-cold linoleum floor and sheer blinding pain. “Can’t have anyone know you’re down there when you shouldn’t be,” the nurse slurs thickly into my ear as she pulls me up by my shoulders, lifting my whole frame above her head and slamming it violently down to the bed below. I’ve never felt so tiny in all my life.

The next morning, I mention to Mum that we should lock our room’s doors to stop anyone making their way in during the night.

“But nobody did,” she frowns, patting my hand. “You were quite restless ‘till I went to bed, though,” she adds.

“No, look,” I try, and lift up my hospital gown to show her the enormous fist-shaped bruise blossoming out above my belly-button. It’s completely gone. “Wait…” I try to buy myself time, to no avail.

“You’ve got Physio with Carol at 10,” Mum says. “It’s almost 10, so we should go.”

Fuck.

We head down the hallway and back to the tiny room. When we arrive, Carol is sitting on the bed, a concerned look on her face.

“I looked everywhere for you but I couldn’t find you! I was really worried!”

She stands and extends her hand towards me.

Slowly, I take it, and we head off down the stairs together.

“Hey,” I slur to my mother as the male nurse enters my room once more.

“Yes?” she asks, playing for subtlety.

I smile a huge, drugged-up smile.

Shh, but he’s really cute. Do you think he’s….?”

Mum understands immediately, thankfully: I don’t need to limp my wrist at her.

“I don’t know, but I can ask, if you like.”

Even in my wacked-out state that seems like a wholly terrible idea.

“No, ‘s’okay.” It’s a testament to the fact I’m less high than usual that I haven’t volunteered to ask him myself. “We’ll leave it.”

Handsome Male Nurse returns and shoots me a perfectly white toothy grin, his cheekbones glinting in the alien light of the ward’s shuddering halogen. The fact that his scrubs are hot pink, I think, is definitely ironic, and not lost on me.

Three weeks later, when I’m in a much better state, he’s back, with a haircut and washed scrubs, serving up hot lunches.

“You know,” Mum says when I mention that there’s a hot male nurse delivering lunch. “He’s wiped your behind when you were so drugged you couldn’t do it yourself, I’m surprised you don’t remember him.”

He would definitely remember me in that case, I decide, said memory just probably isn’t all that good.

I have an intense and immediate fear of every Australian doctor that I meet.

This fear is not, like my fear of the German doctors, because they can’t speak the language and have a tendency to get the medication wrong.

It’s got more to do with the fact that I can’t shake the feeling that they have my future sitting in their gloved hands, ready for the crushing.

“What’s the prognosis?” I’ve asked them once or twice, internally flinching from the news they might deliver me.

The news has never been negative, but is rarely directly positive. Often it starts with the careful phrase “You’ve got a lot of work to do…”

“I know!” I want to scream. “So can we get to it?!”

I no longer have much else to do aside from write. Blessedly it would appear that in that respect, unlike a lot my brain, my faculties and concentration have not at all been affected.

I emerge, caught in slow motion, out of the thick sidewalk foliage. In classic Bryant style, I’m running ‘cross the road to the one bakery that blessedly appears to be open at 5AM, ignoring the steady stream of cars sprawled out across the road in front of me. I make a dash for it, and immediately black out as I’m hit – my memory thankfully, blindly cuts out there, perhaps attempting to preserve my own sanity and what’s left of my dignity, except for a few strange cuts of the piece: my body flying through the air, limbs akimbo and a perpetual forward motion faster and with more strange grace than anything I’ve experienced in my life.

I suppose the advantage to being blind drunk when hit is this: your body remains blessedly relaxed throughout the entire process.

Children and adults (far too cool for the memorial) swarm in tiny groups clustered tight around me, simultaneously leaping haphazardly from concrete pillar to concrete pillar and disappearing out of view, legs waggling like groups of tiny Pac-Man ghosts and bodies sprinting at top speed back and forth ‘cross the ground’s uneven cobblestones. I move a metre or two forward and a couple, tongues locked and smacking, turn to glare at me, drooping lines of sacrilegious spit across each other as they turn.

Behind me, a small child screams, arms jutting out in violence towards my frame: “BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD, HA.”

I don’t have the energy to argue with him.

By the time my parents arrive at the hospital they find me wide-eyed and shaking uncontrollably, on the floor, holding desperately on to the side of my bed but apparently unable to lift my wilted frame up onto it.

“Oh my god. Are you okay, darling?” Mum asks as she helps me up.

I don’t reply, eyes jutting wildly from side to side and my own impressive line of spittle drooling out the side of my mouth.

Unbeknownst to my parents, I’ve been put on a secret dosage of anti-psychotic drugs overnight to keep me “calm” and ready for sleep (read: to stop me moving around so that the night nurses could rest and relax, although all brain injury recovery books mention night movement in patients as a legitimate stage of unavoidable recovery) and said drugs haven’t agreed with my brain’s chemistry. The nurses, in their legitimacy, begin to bandy about words like “epileptic” in apparent attempts to save their own skin.

“Strange,” Mum replies, “he was never epileptic before being admitted to this hospital.”

It is perhaps the 35th night we’ve been there. A large Polack nurse squeals “DINNER” as she totters down the hallway with much too much excitement and I sit at a small table with my mother in grim displeasure. “Here you go,” she smiles, placing a plate down in front of me.

This is the incredibly appealing German delicacy known as “abendbrot” – a mix of bread, meat and sliced cheese – and perhaps the 35th time I’ve had to eat said “abendbrot”.

“Enjoy”, the Polack nurse simpers as she slaps down a slice of bread and prosciutto and spreadable crème fraiche.

“I’ll try,” I simper back.

Apparently, I later heard, one of the hospital’s older patients had to go through a course of intensive vitamins due to the overall low quality of the hospital’s food.

.

My parents’ house, now.

I am repatriated back to Australia, though still in need of therapy, attempting to avoid my father’s friend who sits at our kitchen table noisily slurping down a coffee.

“So!” he barks, turning around. I pause in my tracks, but five steps from blessed freedom. “So, what’d it feel like, eh?” his fingers reach with sudden violence to rap at his own skull noisily, head twisted and bird-like in its inquisition.

“I don’t remember,” I lie blankly, looking for an out, a solution, freedom.

“Ahh,” he replies sagely. “Ahh. You’ll go right, in the end. They always do.”

I am lying on my Australian bedroom floor now, arms and body shaking in shame. As a test of myself, I had attempted to do twenty push-ups – the usual amount – to see how my arms would take it. They wouldn’t, apparently, and in glorious, embarrassing slow-motion I’d managed to do ten in a row before toppling unceremoniously onto my face. I’m now caught in the push-up position, stuck, in pain, unable to move down or up.

“Come on,” I think. “Come on you weak piece of piss, fucking do it. do a goddamn push-up.”

My arms refuse to comply.

I’m perched in a wheelchair with my family, navigating through the hospital’s greenery past other patients, gnarled and twisted and leant unceremoniously in over their own wheelchairs.

“You’re so lucky,” Mum murmurs. “so, so lucky to be alive.”

I take this in, and to my surprise, the swelling inside my chest practically takes me over: and for perhaps the first time in my life I do feel genuinely lucky just to be alive.

I’m lying, now, in absolute agony, jammed in an ambulance bed being wheeled quickly across cobblestones. My right testicle is perhaps four times large & thicker than it has any right to be, & throbbing uncontrollably: as such, we’ve been sent out of the regular hospital to a more intensive doctor-shelter.

An hour later, a gruff, bald doctor arrives with an ultrasound machine held like a futuristic weapon in hand:

“Please,” I ask, spilling thick, fat, hot tears from my eyes. “Please, please be gentle, oh god.”

“Of course,” he breezes, and promptly reaches down with malice to squeeze brutally at the offending testicle as I writhe in ridiculous pain.

“Please,” he barks towards me. “Please just let me actually inspect you. Oh God!”

My arms twist tendons brutally around the metal frame of the hospital bed, attempting in vain to distract from the pain.


I walk haphazard with my therapist through the hospital, head held high, shoulders back, chest puffed out.

“You’ve made such good progress,” she smiles at me as I walk tall with her out the door to the garden. “See? I don’t even have to hold you up anymore!”

And that old familiar swelling in my chest, like an unruly grin, that signals within me a genuine, pleased and big way of holding myself I’ve never before experienced.

And I’m sitting in front of a messy writing pad that holds countless scrawls of my own name, now, my own ridiculous name repeated time and time again by my own incomprehensible scrawl. I stare at the clean white line underneath the lines of my scrawl and whisper to myself: “Do it. You’ve done it a million times before, so just do it. Write your own fucking name.”

Possessed, I reach down with the navy blue BiC wrapped in my hand and, of course, in one motion, fuck it all up.

It’s somewhere between Dateline and Lateline that I realise: despite all of these horrid occurrences, I am, for the most part, incredibly happy – and genuinely so for once, perhaps for the first time ever. One of my favourite nurses, not long after this, comes to say goodbye to me  – she’s leaving the hospital all-together.

“It’s my belief,” she smiles at me, “that sometimes, in our lives, we get the chance to properly step back from everything and assess the direction we were headed in, where we were headed, and so on. I think that’s what you’ve been tasked with. Goodbye, and good luck.”.

With that, she leaves, and my heart somehow soars out of my chest and up around my head, throbbing stronger and happier than before.

The four of us step quietly and determined out of the hospital gates, my arm wrapped around my mother’s; a large bag strapped to my back. It’s Leaving Day. The sun beats pleasantly down around our necks, beating as hard as our own pulses that sit tight and insistent in our throats. We live in fear of Dr. Von Helden – perhaps the most Germanic sounding Doctor in existence – catching us out; the only doctor in the hospital to fly into a rage at the suggestion we might attempt to leave a day early.

“What’re you going to do?!” Dr Scheffner, our knight in shining doctor’s outfit, had snarled in mock-derision, discussing Von Helden. “It’s a hospital, not a prison, eh! You can’t make them stay against their will.”

But apparently, if you wanted it enough (or were simply scary enough), you could.

We’re moving across cobblestones towards the gate, now, my heart in my mouth and heart-rate pounding, mercilessly, brutally pounding in my chest – and then. And then?

And then, nothing happened, of course. We crossed the threshold event free, my heart pulsating in my mouth joyously, and for perhaps the first time in months I feel, bag in hand, grin stupidly, blissfully adorning my worried face, genuinely and blessedly free: we’ve made it. We’ve actually made it.