I’m lying flat on my back and staring up at the ceiling. Going out of my head here. Traction pins in the side of my skull. Weights attached to a wire and hanging over the head of the bed, keeping my head straight and neck taut. Hyper-anxious, terrified of the damage I’ve done to my spine. Woke up in intensive care two days after breaking my neck. A motorbike accident. Crashed into a road sign at high speed. Family tell me my bike is a wreck. Fuck the bike! I am a wreck! I’m a human wreck, totally paralysed with my spinal cord damaged at level C3? I’ve only just discovered what that is. Seven vertebrae in the neck and its the third one down from the skull. Unimaginable. Can’t breathe unaided. I’m on a ventilator. It’s keeping me alive. Can’t shrug my shoulders. Can’t feel anything from the neck down. Yes, a fucking wreck, that’s what I am.
I’m now out of intensive care and in a spinal Ward. This morning I had shit raked out of my arse. What’s that all about? A couple of nurses appeared by my bedside. One of them was wheeling a trolley. On it there was a bowl of water, incontinence sheets and packets of wipes. After putting on a pair of plastic gloves, they carefully turned to me onto my left side. One of them poked his fingers up my arse, then rhythmically eased down the excrement that had gathered in my bowel. “You’ve got plenty here, mate. It’s firm but you are having a good result.” Good result? Is that what they call it? This is the first shit I’ve had since I broke my neck and it stinks. The nurse said I had better get used to it. This was going to happen every two days. “Bowel regime.” Every two fucking days? I can’t believe this. Fucking injury has stripped away every vestige of dignity that I ever had. The Shit Rakers from hell. Hell’s Shit Rakers.. Raking shit fucking hell! I’m having the fucking shit raked from my arse! I’M HAVING THE FUCKING SHIT RAKED OUT OF MY ARSE AND THIS IS NORMAL? I want to crawl away somewhere and hide.
Can’t sleep at night. Keep begging for more tranquilizers, Valium and sleeping tablets. Doctors refuse to increase the dose. I’m on two Mogadons and 10 mg of diazepam at night but it’s not enough. I keep waking up, my neck throbbing maddeningly and my mind — which is in a kind of hysterical overdrive — trying to make sense of this bizarre reality I’m in. The pain in my neck is excruciating. The anxiety crippling (if you’ll excuse the pun). I’m crippled in mind and body.
What’s that? Something’s dropped to the floor nearby. Sounds like a metal container. CLANG! CLATTER! Can’t see what’s going on. Laying here staring up at the ceiling. Neck fixed in position. Can’t move my head left or right. Desperately trying to stifle a scream. I’m going to lose it, going to freak out. Change my trend of thought. Switch my mind to other things. What other things? Everything to do with this place stinks. It’s like a prison. I am at the mercy of everyone. Haunted by visions of escaping this hell-hole, wriggling along the floor like a wounded caterpillar, the heavy traction weights trailing behind me.
There are many weak and vulnerable patients in the spinal ward. Some worse off than others. Perfect environment for sadists. And there are plenty of them here. They can be as mean and nasty as they like without fear of physical repercussion. Yesterday, I heard a male nurse mutter: “I hate you Jenkins.” He was roughly untangling a patient from the straps of a hoist. His loathing was almost palpable. It was primeval. Ghastly. And to think this hospital is classified as one of the best in the world. A world leader in spinal injury. I look across the ward at the patient opposite. Our eyes meet. We are both thinking the same thing. “How the fuck did we get here?” Welcome to reality. I could not have imagined such a world existed before this fucking injury. Now, ironically, I am part of it.
Prince Charles is marrying Princess Diana this afternoon. Nurses manoeuvre our beds from all quarters of the ward, gather them in a semi-circular fashion around the television. I am given a pair of prism glasses. A nurse slides them over my ears, settles them on the bridge of my nose. They enable me to remain on my back and yet still look at the television. Not sure that I want to watch this. Unlike the nurses who are buzzing with excitement, I have no interest in the Royal wedding. I’m too stressed, gripped with bleak thoughts about my injury and the pain that I am experiencing. All I can think about is how I was and how I am now. Can’t breathe or cough. Terrible yet comforting sound of the ventilator bellows puffing air into my lungs. Will the motor fail, suddenly stop? Will I ever be able to breathe unaided again? This fucking ward is stifling. Storm flies everywhere, crawling all over my face. I ask if I can have an injection of Valium. “I’m going out of my head here. Please give me an injection.” The nurse says she will speak to the doctor.
Half an hour later a doctor appears with a syringe. He injects 5 mg of Valium into my thigh. It takes a couple of minutes to hit. My anxieties float away. Exquisite relief as I drift into a dream-world of tranquillity. I’m suddenly content to watch the happy couple walk hand in hand up the aisle. A fashion expert comes on the television and gives her opinion of the dress the bride is wearing. Sycophancy, praise and worship. It trails gracefully behind as she walks towards Prince Charles, her arm entwined in her fathers. Adoring crowds on either side. The pomp and pageantry, the fawning, the adulation of the multitudes inside and outside the church, suddenly make me want to heave. I look around the room. Nurses have tears in their eyes. The ventilator continues, blowing air rhythmically into my lungs. My chest rises and falls. I have tears in my eyes but for different reasons.
There is one particular doctor here who has no empathy whatever for his patients. The bastard even makes the nurses cry. I won’t name him. Instead I shall refer to him as Doctor Mengele, the infamous German medic who experimented on Jews during the Second World War when the Nazis were in power. I’d love to be able to project all my pain, despair and anxiety onto him. Fill his head with the shit that’s in mine. Let him experience the same agonising pain I do — extreme and prolonged. Then he would understand with absolute clarity what I am going through. Yes Mengele needs to understand how patients feel. I doubt that he has ever considered the feelings of other people. Sadistic measures are necessary for sadistic people. Pleading makes then worse. Pleading is what they feed on. Pleading tells them they have power over individuals. It makes them feel good. Never plead to a sadist. Meet them head on and give back what you can. Short while ago he vented a torrent of verbal abuse upon me. I stared directly into his eyes and asked if he was taking the piss. “If you are, you can fuck off!” Two nurses were present. They looked visibly shocked. You could hear a pin drop. Mengele turned to me, his eyes bulging with rage, and screamed: “No, I am not taking the piss!” We both knew where we stood after that. Fucking toss-pot doctor. Yeah, it would be great to project all my pain and anxiety onto him. See how he likes it.
How did I get into this mess? What happened to me? Amphetamines? Alcohol? Haste? Death wish? What a combination: speed, alcohol, haste and a four-cylinder Honda motorbike capable of a hundred and fifty miles an hour. Let me clarify this a little. I’ll turn the clock back a little. It is 5 o’clock on June 9, 1981. I have just finished repairing Paul Weller’s guitar. The Jam are gigging this weekend and he wants his guitar to be in perfect condition. He plays a Rickenbacker. I don’t like Rickenbacker guitars. The tuning mechanism is very crude. I’m cleaning up my bench, brushing away all the dust when in walks my friend Joe. He is carrying a guitar case. We exchange greetings. Many people pop in and out of my workshop. It doesn’t bother me. I like it. I like Joe. He opens his guitar case, takes out a gleaming Sunburst Gibson 345 and plugs it into an amplifier. While I am putting my tools away, he sits on a stool and starts strumming. Soon we are both playing, jamming around a Beatles’ song. Then in comes Bill from the sale’s department. He is descended from an American Indian tribe. It shows in his dark hair and crooked nose. His skin is tanned and his eyes are brown. He sits on the floor, a pair of bongos wedged between his legs. Bill starts to tap out a rhythm that is in beat with the song we are playing. We play for fifteen minutes or so and then Joe pauses. He takes a small packet of grass from his pocket and rolls a joint. “Home grown,” he says, holding up the packet for us all to see. Taking a puff, he offers it around. Bill and I take a deep slug. It feels good. Bill has scored some amphetamines tablets. He offers me one. I drop it. Now everything feels really good. We continue to play. Suddenly Barry the boss appears in the doorway. He is dressed in a casual cardigan and he is smoking a cigarette. Barry smokes too much. He is not exactly healthy. I like Barry. He has got a good soul. He is too kind to be a businessman. “I’ll be locking the shop up in five minutes,” he says. We call it a day.
The weather is still hot, even though it’s 6 o’clock in the evening. The pavements are dusty. There is a peculiar stillness in air. Not the slightest hint of a breeze. I’m feeling good. The high street is quiet. Most of the shops have closed now. I’m heading for the local pub. I fancy half a pint of beer and a game of darts before going home. Walking along, I glance down at my feet, watch them as they move one in front of the other. I’m admiring my new blue trainers. I reached the pub and go through the door. It’s cool inside. Smells of beer and cigarettes. The landlord greets me. I like Rubin. There is nothing stuck up about him. He is more than a landlord. He chats and offers advice. Listens to you. Rubin is smaller than I am. For a landlord, he is on the scruffy side. I order a drink. He pours it slowly. I drink it fast. Friends offer me more beer. I have one and half pints before I decide it’s time to go. So I say goodbye to everybody and walk back to the shop, go round the back where my motor bike is parked. Everybody in the shop has gone now. I glance up at the old red brick wall that separates the car parking area from the buildings beyond. Grass is growing in small tufts where the bricks have eroded. This wall must be at least a hundred years old. I straddle my motorbike and rock it off its stand. The engine starts up first time. I steer the bike from the car park area and onto the main road. Soon I am zooming along. Suddenly I’m frustrated by a string of cars that are moving slowly. I feel an overwhelming urge to overtake. As soon as there is a break in the oncoming traffic I wind the throttle back. The bike accelerates forward. Ahead of me as a tight band. I’ve driven this route many times and I know I can take it with no trouble. What I do not realise is the Council have started to build a keep left bollard in the middle-of-the-road. I hit the curb stones that support bollard. Blinding flash of sparks as the front wheel scrapes alongside the granite stone. The rear wheel goes over it, snapping my head back and breaking my neck. I lose consciousness instantaneously. Next thing I know I am in ITU.
That’s how it happened. I have myself to blame. The only solace is that I didn’t kill somebody else in the process.