the honesty of recovery

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.”


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.

1 comment
  1. Claire said:

    hey, was sorry to read about the car crash but I’m glad to hear you’ll pull through this.
    Recovery is a bitch, don’t be afraid to accept your limitations for a while. Recovery is something you want to get right.
    Hope your memories return – I have no concept of how terrifying that would be but I’m 100% sure that it sucks.

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