Entering the restaurant, I ask for three portions of pork and rice to take away. The manager approaches me. He smiles. We talk. He is wearing a suit with an open neck shirt. It has gold rings on his fingers. His hair is dark and combed back. He has a gold tooth in the upper front of his mouth. He says his daughter would like to learn how to play the guitar and wondered if I would teach her. I say I would be glad to. Maybe a couple of lessons a week. He asks me when I can start and I tell him tomorrow afternoon. I will nip in around 3 o’clock. “Has she got a guitar?” I ask.
“Seriously,” he says. “It’s always airborne, twenty-four-seven. If there’s nuclear Armageddon and America is faced with destruction, they will unleash the bomb.
But wait, what’s this? A young woman in her early 20s, legs buckling under her weight, body swaying unsteadily from side to side, is stumbling along the road, cars sounding their horns, swerving, others screeching to a halt. She is holding her hands out in front and saying aloud, “Come to me beautiful butterfly …” The woman is in a drug haze, trying to catch an imaginary butterfly. She stumbles and falls. Her skirt rides up around her waist. She makes no attempt to cover herself. Tries to get up but stumbles again. This time she is lying on her back, her feet drawn up and her knees in the air. Her underwear his stained, as if she has voided her bladder. People try to help her up. She screams and cries. They get her to stand, then help her to the pavement. She is very unsteady on her feet. They sit her down on some concrete steps outside a shop.
When do I call an ambulance? How low do I let it go before I dial 999? I used to think it was amusing when my blood pressure dropped. “There it goes again,” I’d chuckle. Now it’s serious. 56/36 is no longer a joke. It is sickening. It is life-threatening. I can’t go on like this. It’s like I’ve been disembowelled, the contents of my abdomen scooped out and flung to the floor
What’s happened? I am laying face down, looking into my visor and there is blood in the visor and the blood is dripping down, splash, splash, splash. And someone is screaming, and I hear voices, lots of voices, and I guess people are standing around but it is all confusing. “Is he dead?” It’s a woman shouting. Her voice is frightened and shrill and hysterical. I think, “No, I am not dead, I’m here and I’m conscious but I need to get it together, need to analyse the situation, make it clearer in my mind before I move.” So I go to get up but nothing happens, and I try to push down with my arms but nothing happens, and I try to move my head but nothing happens, and I suddenly realise that I can’t feel myself, don’t know where my legs or arms are, or whether I am facing up or down. But the blood keeps dripping into the visor and so I know my head is looking towards the ground.
“I can’t move!” I blurt out. “I can’t move …”
I have my first result. Through a small cellophane window in the colostomy pouch I observe the stoma. It is amazing to see. The stools squiggle out like soft sausages. The stoma itself is wrinkled, the edges smooth and rounded. It seems to have a life force of its own, spontaneously opening up like a flower and expelling its offending load — a series of six to eight centimetre long stools as thick as a man’s finger. With a squelching fizzle they ooze into the bag. I’m fascinated by the whole process. When all the stools are discharged the stoma relaxes, the creases and folds come together and the hole closes up.
Arriving at my bed, she lifts me bodily from the chair and throws me down onto the mattress. Suddenly many doctors and nurses gather around my bedside. Despite my lack of awareness, I am very frightened. It feels as if I’ve been disembowelled. I’m quickly hooked up to various monitors. “He’s crashed,” I hear a doctor say. He asks what medication I’m on. A nurse tells him I had my first dose of clonidine an hour ago. He asked how many milligrams. I’m not sure of the reply. From a distant star, I hear him say the dose is too high. Sister Maria remarks that I am tachycardic …
The guy in the next bed has visitors. His wife and daughter are sitting on chairs by his bedside. Jimmy bows to the visitors, takes the woman’s hand and kisses it. It’s theatrical gesture, done I assume to make the person feel special. Perhaps he gets a thrill from kissing the backs of females hands? She smiles but there is a look of unease on her face, as if she doesn’t know whether to be embarrassed or delighted …
Me and Tom goad each other into going first. It doesn’t feel right. We are shy. The man tries to persuade us, says he’ll get his cock out too. My heart is beating fast. I have a sense of fear and fascination. But the sense of fear is stronger and so I make some excuse about needing to be home. I quickly leave the cabin and climb down the ladder. Tom follows. The old man stays in the cabin. He doesn’t pursue us. We hurry out of the boatyard.
I can’t sleep and when I do sleep — which is only for a few minutes — I have maddening dreams. Excruciating pain in my neck. Won’t go away. I know it’s pointless but again I plead for drugs: sleeping tablets, Valium, pethadine, anything to get rid of this pain and help me sleep. The night nurse says he is sorry but he can’t prescribe anything without a doctor’s say so.