Kev And I, Me and Kev
It’s strange, all these new friends but I still do think of Kev as my BEST hospital buddy. Kev and I, me and Kev. He is my main partner in crime because he is in the next bed and when things occur (like discovering I can’t clap) he is my first port of call.
We keep an eye on each other, generally chit-chat, give each other sweets and talk about poo a lot (or I do).
What is causing consternation in our little bay today is the laminated sheets we have all just been given.
C-Diff (one of those hospital illnesses) is on New Timber Ward and we are being urged to be vigilant. In reality it’s a virus that only seems to get you if you’re old and infirm (poor old Ashley has fallen victim and is therefore in the quarantine bay at the end of the ward) so me and Kev aren’t particularly worried. What we are, however, is delighted by the information sheets we have been urged to study.
The Bristol Stool Chart.
For those of you who have not been lucky enough to come across this delightful, informative, illustrated, pamphlet: let me give you the low down. It’s a chart of all sorts of different types of poo and I think it was invented in Bristol. I’m just assuming that mind. I’ve just looked on the Bristol tourist website and although they are the very proud birthplace of Tarmac, Concorde and Ribena they make no mention of eponymous shit list.
What is really making me, Kev and his girlfriend Jenna laugh is that the chart looks like a sort of photo-fit of notorious number twos, an identity parade of delinquent poo. They hang on the walls of the ward like Wanted Posters.
Have You Seen This Turd?
They’re all on there: Lumpy Jo, Hard To Pass Pete and Wild Bill Soft Blobs. We examine the chart with a studios air of academia and compare notes with serious nods that then give way to smirks.
This gets me going: My last poo. Crikey! Don’t get me started!
“Yesterday!” I announce proudly. “I think I had my biggest poo to date!” Jenna and Kev do their best to feign interest but they have heard this kind of announcement before. Big poos have been happening a lot to me lately. My bum cheeks aren’t quite with the programme yet. The body seems to be slowly getting back into working order but it’s still getting some stuff not quite right. ‘Right, the swallowing’s nearly there, if we could just get the pooing down…’
And it was MASSIVE. Obviously I’m being all proud about it now in front of Kev and Jenna but Christ, that wasn’t pleasant!
There was a definite moment in the whole procedure when I thought, “you can’t be serious?” But yes, my body was serious, deadly serious. Then it was just a matter of buckling down, grabbing onto something tight, getting some twine to chew on and preparing myself for the ride. Jesus wept. There’s straining and then there’s straining.
But I was, after a lot of huffing and puffing, victorious. Oh yes.
“I laid that poo out. Cold,” I declare proudly, puffing me chest out. And while Kev congratulates me with a salute, Jenna, I think, may be a little bit embarrassed.
So what is this? This preoccupation I have with all things pertaining to the bowl of the bowels.
Well, it’s got a number of things going for it: it’s a something that happens every day, it’s something that I have modicum of control over, and in the magnolia of New Timber Ward it is AN EVENT.
It also marks my recovery. Recently I have been coming on in leaps and bounds. I’m even wiping my own bum now!
And while I may not be a colonel of the colon just quite yet I am definitely a couple of ranks above the lowly private of the privates. I may not have got my wings yet but I have certainly earned my stripes. And, you know, it’s poo so therefore mildly hilarious to me and my bruised brain.
Hang on, I’m getting a little side tracked here. Because although I do love pontificating upon poo what I really wanted to talk about in this section is me and Kev.
I’ve realised that in my head I’ve been kind of thinking of Kev as the sidekick in a buddy movie. I’ve been establishing him as a person of interest and maybe you’re hoping for some kind of character arc here. But, once again, life comes up disappointingly short. It’s my urge to dramatise things stepping in again but our friendship wasn’t dramatic. We didn’t fall out and then make up as we triumphed over adversity. It was just gradual … we slowly got more matey and then he took a large step out of my life.
And that’s it I guess. All these hospital characters aren’t leading roles. They appear only in the hospital scenes. They’re just cameos really. Bit parts.
I will say a little bit more about me and Kev, however, and how, as we recovered, the dynamic slightly changed between us.
One particular moment stands out to me.
It’s a little tale I like to call Richard And The Ever-Decreasing Circles.
Firstly, let me introduce the new guy on the ward. Ok? You getting this? His name is Richard, he’s old and he has had a stroke. Yes, that’s right, an old stroke victim on New Timber Ward Shocker! You heard it here first!
So Richard is a pretty regular inmate but he does have one particular trait that is mildly arresting and it does make me smirk. He doesn’t make me chortle on purpose you understand. Big difference! I am laughing at the stroke patient not with him.
It’s just the way he is with some of the nurses. Richard’s a bit of a toff and he does beckon them over with a royal sweep of the hand and demand a telephone (and he’s doing this every 20 minutes – oh the joys of memory loss!). When they gently tell him that his wife doesn’t want another phone call today he’s generally fine. With particular staff, however, his behaviour is far from acceptable.
And while being slightly shocking and wrong it is amusing.
What am I getting at here? I’m laughing at him because I don’t think it’s really his fault. A stroke or a brain injury can really break you down to your baser and maybe less acceptable character traits. And I’m sure, when he was well, Richard knew not to carry on like this but the stroke has stripped him of his social airs and graces.
It would appear that Richard is, maybe not in his average day to day life but on some kind of subconscious level at least, a bit of a racist. He makes me smile today as he berates the well meaning Sarat like a landowner of a long forgotten empire telling off a lazy slave.
“My good man, if I require the phone I shall bally well have it!” To say he is being all lofty and haughty doesn’t quite do it justice. His tone is just plain rude. Without saying the words ‘Now, listen hear you dirty sand monkey…” he’s implying them.
Sarat is unfazed of course. He’s probably heard a lot worse. He continues to politely inform Richard that he’s used the phone quite enough for today thank you very much. Richard blusters on but soon runs out of steam. Well, what can he do? The damn darky is in charge of keeping him clean, fed and, well, alive.
So yes, Richard is a bit of a racist but don’t hate him. I’m sure that in every day life he is only a racist in a comfortable, acceptable, mildly embarrassing, repressed way which only gets an airing every Christmas when he gets a bit too squiffy with the in laws. He is old remember AND he has just had a stroke so go easy on him … mainly because I need you to feel sorry for him in this coming story because certainly I did.
One afternoon, Me and Kev are witness to a Richard debacle that is both funny and tragic. Ok, maybe I’m the only one seeing the tragic undertones, Kev’s just revelling in the funny. He chuckles quietly and glances across at me, eyes glinting with merriment.
Richard is wheeling his chair into his bed again and again and again. He is doing this because (being a petty atypical stroke victim) one side of his body is buggered. You can guess the rest. He is trying to go in a straight line but he hasn’t got the necessary two good arms for pushing or the wherewithal to realise that he has to push each wheel in turn with his one good arm if he wants to get anywhere. So with growing exasperation and confusion he continuously wheels into the side of his bed.
I frown and Kev snorts as we watch this repetitive sorry spectacle.
I lower myself into my chair, go over and try to explain the conundrum.
“YOU NEED BOTH HANDS RICHARD. YOU NEED TO PUSH ON BOTH WHEELS!” I shout.
Richard eventually comes to a halt and just looks baffled.
It’s a moment I want to highlight because it’s instant where you think the winners and losers are pretty clearly drawn. There’s me and Kev, two young recovering men, one concerned the other cheekily delighted and then there is the focus of our attention, an old absent geezer who can’t get his head around the fundamentals of a wheel chair.
We all know who’s going to come out of this situation on top. In fact, if you were asked to place money on who will get better sooner, all the smart money would be on me and Kev. But you’d be wrong because the status quo is soon to change.
Richard has a card up his sleeve. He is an allusive one because, contrary to all the evidence, he does recover fast. And while he may not be up to my level of recovery he is soon on level pegging with Kev. He noticeably gets better every day. A week into his stay and he’s good-natured enough to keep his racism under his hat.
That’s the thing with strokes: they come in all different shapes and sizes.
That’s why Richard will have the last laugh on Kev. Richard, it would appear (despite his age) is hop, hop, skippity skipping through his recovery with a new thing achievable every week whereas Kev is still trudging through the treacle.
And it’s the same with Kev and me. Whereas my recovery may not be as marked as Richards I have recently left Kev in my wake. And let’s bear in mind that Kev was already on New Timber Ward when I was slopped onto my bed like a puddle of wet bones and flesh. Christ, I couldn’t even sit up on my own when I was transferred from London.
But here I am: doing better than Kev.
My memory’s now better than his and it looks like I’m going to be walking with a Zimmer sooner. Kev has had to watch me blossom while he has stagnated. And so our relationship has altered slightly.
Point in case: Kev is arguing with his OT (Occupational Therapist, a nurse/doctor who helps you reclaim your life) because he wants to return home and is quietly asserting that he is fine.
“But your memory Kevin …” she says.
“It’s fine!” Kev asserts forcefully. “Give me one, ONE example of it being shit!”
The O.T., on the spot, casts around helplessly, “Erm … an example?”
“See: nothing! You expect me to stay here but you’ve got fucking NOTHING!”
“Kevin please …” she dithers. Jenna is at the side of the bed looking concerned. Both she and I know that the OT is talking sense. She winces and wrings her hands.
I can’t watch this. I know I shouldn’t butt in but…
“Kev mate,” I say gently. “Your memory really isn’t up to much. And this is me saying this…”
Kev stops mid sentence and just flaps his lips. As I’ve hinted before Kev is a bit of a patriarch who will quite happily shout all over the female OT but my comment stops him dead in his tracks. His bluster is stoppered and he trails off…
There is a moment of silence.
“See Kevin”, says the OT. “David wouldn’t lie to you would he?”
Kev looks me up and down and then, half joking but half with genuine hurt in his eyes, he says, “Well! Thanks a lot MATE!”
And this is how it has now become.
Me leaving Kev behind with everybody clapping as I do so. As I said, I’m really getting the hang of Rehab now and I have been proudly declared (by a glowing Nickon) to be ‘The Poster Boy For The Rehab Ward’. I’m doing ace.
Is this because my injuries are less severe or is this because of my attitude?
I couldn’t tell you to be honest. Maybe a little of both.
I know this: when Kev was wheeled in here he, apparently, was all bluster and fight. Jenna tells us proudly one day how he was utterly dedicated to the coarse of Rehab. Then, somewhere along the line, the slow rate of his recovery coupled with his dreadful memory (he forgets how far he has come, albeit slowly) just made him throw up his hands.
He barely does physio anymore and is generally sick of being on the ward. Whereas, maybe before, he was kicking against the restrictions of a stroke now it just feels like the norm to him. He has begrudgingly accepted it.
And, in my opinion, (especially with brain injuries) that’s the one thing you can’t do. Accept and be damned.
I think I can say, with some pride, that I always believed in getting better (still do) and I’m proud that I kept on pushing (still am).
But would I, if the roles had been reversed, have been as resilient?
Hard to say with the brain. We know so little about it and how it heals. Does it just get on with it or does it need flexing to get it working again? Obviously going to physio is good but there is a question about whether, by accepting the damage, we stop pushing against it.
Would I, with Kevin’s injuries, have been just as beaten by his circumstances? All the positive attitude in the world may have been useless or maybe attitude is all. Perhaps my attitude would have dwindled too (like Kev’s) when faced with a terrible memory and a slow rate of recovery.
Could Kev have got better sooner with a better attitude?
I don’t know.
Maybe he was just more fucked up than I was.
I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m saying with all this. All I know is that Kevin was my friend and that he struggled.
And as I got better and he continued to struggle.
Definitely not fair.
But that was just the way it was.