The James Dean Of New Timber Ward
What fresh madness is this?
Kev has been out with his mates and has just produced a fag packet on the ward. He offers them round with a sneer and a smirk (a snirk?) and then …. no …. WHOA! He’s actually gone and done it! Wow! If he doesn’t just (all casual like) flick one up into his mouth and, like its no big deal, only goes ahead and lights it! On the ward!!!!
And with that Kev, even though he’s in a wheelchair, somersaults, loops and triple back-flips into the position of ‘my new hero’. With stripes.
I’m gobsmacked and thrilled! He’s smoking in the ward! God, he’s so cool! And he’s dead relaxed like it ain’t no big thing.
There is something to be said for being so pissed off to be stuck here (which Kev most definitely is), it means you can pull off shit like this with a smile and a swagger (a smagger?). And he does. Obviously he can’t actually swagger or even walk but you get my drift. He leans back in his wheelie and basks.
What are they gonna do anyway? Chuck him out? He’d love that.
I long to be the James Dean of New Timber Ward but I’m afraid I turn down the cig proffered my way. They are menthols so that makes it easier but I like to think I would have turned down an honest-to-goodness fag. I like to think that. And I would have. Probably.
That’s another thing: I used to smoke and now I don’t. Before the accident, I think I was a pretty damn heavy smoker, sometimes really heavy. But these days I don’t and it barely ever crosses my mind. In fact watching Kev puff away is more than bearable. It’s fine. I’ve passed the physical craving stage. I was out for most of it.
Top tip: if you want to give up smoking I can’t recommend an enforced coma highly enough. They really help you get past that initial hump of need.
Apparently, shortly after coming round, I did used to make ‘smoking a fag’ gestures to the nurses with a sorry look in my eyes. But I don’t think the profession, as a whole, is in favour of passing freshly lit snouts to the recently conscious. I can’t remember that anyway. It’s like it didn’t happen.
I have found this glorious, dead easy short cut to being a non-smoker. All I had to do was break eleven ribs, my foot, collar bone, puncture my lung and my liver and bruise my brain. Smokers amongst the readers will agree that that is probably easier than using gum.
And, hopefully, it’s another thing that’s going to stick. But, as Kev deeply inhales with a debauched relish, I do get it. If there were a fag that would cause me no harm, I’d be there. The real needling physical want has gone but I get the enjoyment of the ritual. I remember that first hit, the joy of a big intake of smoke hitting your lungs as your chest expands with the kind of gusto that a rambler might take a deep breath at the top of a beautiful mountain. I get that. I remember the joy, the need.
Kev, in fact, is a testimony to the power of nicotine. He may have ended up here because of naughty living. I heard Nikon mid gossip earlier. I think Kev may have been doing drugs. Nikon refers obliquely to his ‘lifestyle choices’.
This much is true, although it may not have caused Kev’s incident, smoking can cause strokes.
Yet still, here he is. Joyfully puffing away.
Whether I definitely think this is cool or not I can’t decide. Viewed in a certain light, it is a big royal ‘fuck you’ to life events. But viewed in another it just looks stupid. Kev has a very pretty girlfriend (Jenna) and her concerned face pops into my head as I watch him puff away.
I think I know which side I’m on. But I shake the image free. This is too much damn fun!
Kev puts the fag out and makes a big thing of saying how lovely it was.
Later, Nickon comes into the ward. She busies herself with her duties then stops dead. Her nose juts aloft. Nostrils twitch.
Kev and me are doing our best to look all ‘butter wouldn’t melt’. Then I catch his eye. He smirks and that’s it. The smile on my face quickly turns into a grin which turns into a snigger which becomes a snort and oh dear, Nickon’s not happy, but there’s no stopping this now, no stopping.
And before too long Kev and I are gone, giggling, quite helpless with laughter.
Today is a big day. Today is the day I get wings. Or wheels.
Today is the day I get a wheel chair that I can properly push.
Now bear in mind that I am still incredibly weak so it’s not easy at first.
Lisa and Nickon look on proudly but wincing ever so slightly as I shunt myself down the ward corridor. I tend to veer to the right at first (being right handed) but I soon learn to compensate and gradually work up from a snail’s pace to a snail’s trot.
I am eager to give it a go and regularly force myself to go up and down the whole ward corridor once a day. The ward isn’t particularly long and I do only do it once a day so that doesn’t really sound like an achievement but please don’t forget that although I am well on the road to recovery I am still pretty fucked up.
So here’s a little mental challenge for you, to give you an idea of where I was and what I was capable of. Try to imagine going up and down the ward’s short corridor once a day as being a big achievement. Because it was. That’s what it was like. Baby steps, or baby pushes or whatever … but a little at time, a little more every day.
And the one thing I am doing with my newfound freedom (and that’s how it really feels: freedom!) is visit the next ward along pretty much every day.
Come on! Let’s visit Rob’s ward!
The first thing I notice (seeing them on their home turf) is that these guys are ruthless in their demands. There’s usually some exhausted and bewildered nurse standing, beaten, in the centre of the ward, holding a trembling hand to her forehead whilst all around her the guys shout ‘nurse, nurse, NURSE!’
What’s particularly amusing is that, what with my newfound mobility, as soon as I enter the fray I’m usually sucked in to perform some menial task for the bedridden. Today it’s Lionel. Lionel’s is doing his usual mixture of starey glaring punctured by moments of clarity. Today, for example, he remembers my name (the highest form of flattery amidst this amnesiac group of old giffers) but he does want something as well.
“Dave, could you pass me a few hand towels?” Odd request, but I pull a few out of the machine by the sink and hand them to him. “Thanks very much Dave.”
“Oh you haven’t given him towels have you?” says Frank, exasperated.
I look to Lionel who is now setting about today’s activity, which is tearing the paper towels into long thin strips. All whilst looking around the ward with hooded vulture brow … creepy. Burgh!
“Hello David!” says James cheerily. James is a lovely old dear who I have just met because he is bedridden. When he is on form he’s a twinkling little delight who makes very little sense. His weird one-liners have become a personal highlight.
“I do so like it when you visit. The only sane one in this madhouse eh?” he says with a smile. Brilliant.
If only you knew, James, Christ, if only I knew …
This is a bit pedestrian for James but then he doesn’t disappoint as this little piece of platinum prose drops from his gap toothed maw:
“I was thinking Dave! Shall you and me run off and join the army eh?” Ace! Yes, lets do that James. I’m sure they’ll find use for two crippled morsels with no memories to speak of. I giggle.
On the sad side of things, James’s wellness is in constant flux. One day he’s all jolly and the next he can be quite unruly, trying to go for walks and screaming out. Just when you think he’s making progress he’s back doing weird shit again. It’s made me realize that even at 33, I’m still on the right side of ‘youthfulness’. My recovery has been steady and constant whereas with the old folk it’s never guaranteed from one day to the next.
“Oh God, he was at it again last night. Moaning away,” says Rob with a conspiratorial wink and then moans himself, “They’ve taken my piss bottle. Now I have to call ‘em and hold on!”
The staff are starting to really push Rob. His attitude to his recovery is not always positive. He has parents, a girlfriend and a daughter, all of whom barely visit him. And if he was sent home he worries that he would be stuck in doors all day. He’s a forklift driver and, as I said, a simple man, but his support network are a bit shit. So Rob’s not keen on going home and doesn’t appreciate being pushed because, you know what? He likes it here.
And why not? There’s plenty of folks about, nurses and patients and your needs are firmly centre stage. What’s not to like? What he really likes about it here is one nurse in particular. Lisa. The young, fun one. So young, in fact (about 20), that Rob very firmly claims that he sees her as a daughter figure. Yeah right…
When she breezes in he lights up.
“Lisa, Lisa, can I take my hand splint off now please?’ he asks sweetly.
“Yeah, yeah. In a minute. I’m just dealing with Frank and then, oh god, Lionel the shredder is off. Who gave him towels?”
“Dave did,” says Rob like a schoolboy with his hand up, dobbing in his mates with relish to his favourite teacher. Dirty snake.
Rob’s hand splint, I’m sure I could help him with that but it’s attention from Lisa he’s after.
And I realize what this place has to offer. Rather than just a place to mend it offers care and attention. Unlike Rob I’m lucky enough to have plenty of willing givers but I have enjoyed the, well, the love you are given here. Maybe institutionalised and carefully equally metered out but love and care nonetheless. Very real and very there.
These people do a strange and wonderful job.
Lisa comes over, helps herself to one of Rob’s chocolate and smiles, nose wrinkled. And Rob, well, Rob BEAMS. I realise that he probably doesn’t get enough of this at home. No wonder he wants to stay. Lisa helps him with his splint and he watches her with a smile.
And I know its not in their job description and crikey, there is the odd nurse who’s a right cow, but some people just can’t help themselves. They were meant to give the poor and bedraggled their love and care. That’s what probably led them to nursing in the first place and that’s why so many of them do it so well. I watch Lisa gently tend to Rob and I smile. There’s a moment’s peace and serenity and then…“Nurse. Nurse. NURSE!”