A Pain in the Poo Factory 05
Cathy told me later they wanted to speak to me while I was in recovery. I had appeared lucid, and they’d handed me my cochlear implant, hoping I would put it on. Apparently I’d gazed at it a few moments and flaked out again. That’s when they called her– they didn’t know how to turn it on.
That is why I spot Cathy on a confused ride along corridors and up a lift to the ward on level eight. She follows us as they park me by a window with a view over Heidelberg station. Cathy helps me with the implant, and talks to the nurses about it. I speak, or at least try; I sound like a tired gangster with an 80-cigarettes-a-day habit. No, dad, Mattie would say when she visited a little later. You sound like you’ve been on a three-day bender.
I am thoroughly hooked up. There is a drip line which delivers various fluids via plastic tubes into a bung embedded into a vein in the back of my hand. One of these fluids is liquid morphine. There’s a release button; I can press this for a little dose. The drip line was on a stand with wheels, so this effectively becomes my deals-on-wheels. I press the button, doze and admire abstract art etched on the side of gigantic pyramids.
Is it actually sleep? I don’t know. I can only lie on my back. It hurts if I try to wriggle on my side. Maybe it’s because with such a chunk of bowel taken out, my guts had more space, and would slosh around if I try to turn.
It’s hard to sign, partly because I’m still groggy, but mostly because the bung to my deals-on-wheels gets in the way. My hands move like paddles. But Cathy still understands everything.
But there is something else I fail to understand. The word I hear the most is fluids. Drink, the nurses tell me. Drink, drink, and drink some more. I sip water constantly. So how come, I croak to Emma, the nurse, was I not peeing?
“Oh but you are,” she says. “You have a catheter.”
“A – a catheter? Oh shit.”
“Oh piss, I think you mean.”
“But I relax as much as I can. I let go and nothing happens.”
“It’s right past the sphincter in the bladder. It flows out and collects in a bag where we can check the colour and the volume.”
Oh right. So now I can enjoy a Clayton’s Pee – the pee you have, when you’re not having a pee. Just let the waters flow, as they do in the Banks of the Ohio.
More concerning is my guts. They have become royally pissed off. In my distended belly they heave, growl and roil in spasms that hurt. They seem to be saying, what the fuck is going on here mate?
“That’s quite normal,” says Emma. “Keeping up your fluids okay?”
Soon I release a foul dark liquid. It smells like shit and hot burnt metal. It looks gruesome, I tell Lyn, who clears the bedpan and wipes me down. To you maybe, but not to me, she says, with a smile. I had known about such clinical detachment, but in Lyn, it’s personified. It’s a comfort, and the spasms ease. Emma says, part of it is the blood from the surgery. It’s all quite normal.
The doctors want to know – are you passing wind? I could but so far I could not trust a fart. Then a tiny experiment was positive. Then I could discreetly practice my rear-trumpet version of God Save The Queen. That was more good news. It’s a sign your bowels are working again, says the doc.
I’m asked about pain, but it’s hard to answer – pain is everywhere and nowhere. Is general soreness a pain? Is it pain if it comes and goes? It wasn’t so much the pain as a certain disconnection that mixes with a good deal of who-gives-a-fuck. My deals-on-wheels becomes a good friend. I had repeated attention from nurses and medicos. They take blood pressure, and temperature and ask how is the pain on a scale of one to ten. I play with the bed controls, heave my wounded body into another position, and jab the release button for another strange tour of the pyramids. I catch a glimpse of my stomach and hardly recognise it. It’s shaven, bloated, and sports red-and-purple splotches and a honeycomb bandage.
It’s the fourth day since I had anything resembling food and this is what I’m served: jelly and fruit juice. It’s delicious. A little later and I am improving because I get jelly, fruit juice and ice cream. But it’s too much effort to eat, and I defy ancient childhood injunctions to clean up everything on my plate.
People drift in, some friends, my sisters, and my daughter. I’m surprised at how much they revive me. I don’t mind telling the same stories of what’s happened, over and over again. Cathy seems to be there all the time. I’m not sure how she does it, but she makes me laugh; it hurts a little but the pleasure is the greater. I gaze out the window at the houses and trees on the hill above Banksia road; it strangely reminds me of parts of suburban Noumea in New Caledonia.
This existence seems ethereal. It’s a time out from life and nearly all responsibilities vanish. Not since babyhood have I ever been in such a dependent state. It don’t matter when I sleep. If I want attention I press a button. Another tour of the pyramids? Press here. Feel like reading? Go right ahead. Don’t make it to the toilet in time? You’ll get cleaned up. It don’t matter what time of the day or the night; the hospital don’t care. If the hospital noises get too much, I yank out the cochlear implant.
I can’t ask for absolutely anything; the nurses are not hotel concierges and anyway I am not about to demand front-row seats to the next Olivia Newton-John concert. But I am hooked-up to this strange confined world of pings and beeps and tubes and liquids. Life goes on hold in a way that overlaps with: holiday.
Next time: Code blue