Deep within the hospital, unknown to me, some other people took an interest in the flutter of joy on the ward. They have uniforms and have the power to keep me where I was against my will no matter what the doctor says.
People who could keep me in the hospital were dressed in white. I’ve talked about them before – physiostherapists – angels in tennis whites. But I was about to discover their sinister side, and it involved another test.
Shortly after the coterie of doctors and acolytes dervishly disappeared around the corner with a great flourish of wind and
debris much like the Tasmanian Devil does in cartoons, it came ominously. In the eddy of the jubilation of the “youcangohometoday!” news, the whites came in shortly after and announced there were concerned about my attitude – the yaw that I described earlier. The stroke had left me partially paralysed in my right side. I could not walk a straight line because I veered to the right . I tried to compensate by an amount I thought I needed to compensate for a straight line – simples! – but, it just did not work out. The physios proposed a test – come with them to the gym and negotiate their improvised course to a certain standard and they would let me go home. Fail, and I couldn’t go home. (When
they make the film of my life they will insert dramatic music at this point to indicate trouble ahead)
Off we went on a one-way journey to disappointment.
The signs I read didn’t indicate that – I thought I could pass the test and get the get out of jail free card – they were that concerned about well-being. My right shoulder kept hitting the wall, and so I overcompensated to straighten things out. We weren’t even to the gym yet. I kept saying (to myself; remember I couldn’t speak): aim left, miss right. What happened I looked like a drunk trying to pass a roadside sobriety test.
In the gym they set out some traffic cones in a straight line, like driving school. The man got out a clipboard and the young woman student stood next to me (in case I tried to escape). I was to weave in and out of the cones like a dog on agility course – if they had a collapsible tunnel, they would have used it. All the time the man was making notes on the clipboard, adding up the figures like a credit scorecard, and I was not looking like candidate for a loan of freedom. I lost count on how many times I hit things or went wide of the cones – probably 55/45 in their favour. But that’s the way I remember it.
Back on the floor, a nurse joined two physios to deliver the verdict. (I should have known what it was because the nurse wore a black cap on her wig) I hadn’t passed the test. There was a smile on the face of the nurse; no, actually it was a smirk, reminiscent of Nurse Rached. The judge in the kangaroo courtroom actually enjoyed telling me her decision to keep me under lock and key, “safety” it was – mine. I should be going home¸ but was left without an appeal by some health and safety zealot.
Rage at my detention fomented inside, unable to cry out. There was no voice for injustice. And the sight of the face of that nurse
remains an image that continues to haunt me today, if I let it. She knew that I had no reply and there was the perception that she actually enjoyed the power she had over me and there was no comeback on her – health and safety was on her
side. I felt a fit of coprolalia coming on.
(Note: “We would like to see early supported discharge services encouraged in all areas.
The Stroke Association manifesto 2010-2015” We all know manifestoes add to the drain of natural resources and aren’t worth the ink spent on printing them. And they have all the impact of somebody pissing in the wind)
I tried to respond, to speak, drowning them in fluent sarcasm which I had always relied on in the past. I tried the whipped collie look evoking empathy. I tried objecting Perry Mason style, all to no effect because I had no voice. It made me want to run away from it – the hospital and its plasticine food, zombies as roommates and medical people who spoke in the third person. I thought if I could just get out of there it would be a much better place to recover. The speech would heal itself – the paralysis would be trained and exercised away and I could resume my place in society. If only there was some way…there was. My attitude and I’m not referring to my yaw.
I remember David Chandler, freelance writer for Life Magazine in New
Orleans (I once told him: You’re a writer for Life Magazine? – yeah, well I’m a
photographer for Reader’s Digest). His wife was giving birth in a hospital and
when it came time to check out, the hospital demanded the bill be paid before
they would discharge his wife. He tried arguing to let the insurance handle it,
but the hospital demanded payment before his wife and child could go. David
called the US Attorney in New Orleans and talked about filing kidnap charges (a
federal offence) against the hospital. As David argued it, they were holding his
wife and child against their will and demanding a ransom. The hospital
The UK government has apologized for slavery – they were unreservedly, extremely so, fingers not crossed, they really, really mean it, sorry. So, slavery was out. There was nothing to keep me there. I could just walk out. I wasn’t under a mental section order. They couldn’t hold me for not paying the bill – this is the NHS. Nurse Ratched was not used to being countermanded. The smirk turned to a grimace. She turned at ultra-legal on me. They wanted me to sign something that absolved them of all culpability, because they knew best. Only I couldn’t sign anything, or speak. All I could do was growl my dissatisfaction and frustration at Nurse Ratched’s order and Amoret understood that. She was my voice. We “talked” and she understood the frustration and had the words for it I couldn’t have. There was no sign for dissatisfaction or frustration that I could point to (note to stroke charities or whoever gave me the chart: this is something that’s needed, if you can illustrate the concepts).
In a great rush I packed all my belongings and headed for the door without even filling the customer satisfaction survey indicating my pleasure at my stay. Amoret’s signature had sprung me. Like the Emancipation Declaration I was a free man. Just watch out for things on the