This is part of a series. You can begin at Part I and follow the link at the end of each installment to read the next.
Paralysis is a terrible impediment to autonomy. Not only are you not able to move but also you cannot get dressed, wash or go to the bathroom by yourself.
In the Gurney Hall I had to let go of my shirt and pants and I felt humiliated wearing nothing but briefs under the ridiculous patient smock with the wide opening in the back.
You see, clothes not only serve to keep you warm and decent, they also symbolize your social status. In a hospital this hierarchy is quite obvious: doctors wear white smocks and a tie, nurses and orderlies wear pastel-coloured scrubs, and patients lie half-naked at the bottom of the social ladder.
|The social ladder is nowhere ever more present than in a fire brigade. Here a firefighter is climbing the social ladder in an attempt to become lead firefighter, a dangerous position with more responsibilities. Exactly why is a mystery to me.|
“You know, when you’re in a hospital, you have to give up your pride,” she said.
Unfortunately, my vanity prevented me from appreciating her wisdom.
The next day, I squirmed for an hour in my stretcher, finally managing to put on a pair of jeans. I could not button them because of my swollen and numb hands but I did zip them up.
As I was basking in this accomplishment, I looked up and saw a tall blonde woman who had been observing me for awhile, standing at the foot of my gurney.
Although she was smartly dressed and not wearing a white smock, I knew she was a doctor simply because she appeared out of nowhere like all the other doctors who came to see me in the hospital.
“Good morning sir. I am Doctor Sveta Tiplova,” she said with a strong Russian accent. “How are you feeling today?”
“Quite well thank you. Are you a neurologist?”
“No, I’m a physiatrist and I’m here to assess your condition.”
I thought I heard “psychiatrist” and for a moment I had a vision of the Soviet Gulag and the snowy Siberian steppes. I feared this new doctor was sent by the “Seagull,” the doctor who thought I was faking my illness, as a first step to having me committed.
Seeing my distress, Doctor Tiplova explained that she was a specialist of the musculoskeletal system. She then proceeded to thoroughly examine my hands, my arms, my shoulders, my neck and my knees.
|Physiatry, a medical discipline that became popular during WWII, is about restoring the bones and muscles connexion after an injury otherwise than through a silly Bible camp song.|
“Listen, for what it’s worth I am going to submit your case to the Internal Medicine Department. They might be able to recommend some tests to establish a proper diagnosis.”
After she left I realized that medical science was as much in the dark about the nature of my illness as I was, although it did not have to cope with the pain and paralysis.
For the time being however, Doctor Tiplova’s visit had an instant benefit for me. For her examination, an orderly had moved me to my wheelchair and I was no longer lying down on my stretcher.
I had not been to the bathroom since I arrived at the hospital several days before. My friend Lucide had brought me prunes when she came to visit and I was beginning to feel their effect on my bowels.
|Plums (prunus domestica) were introduced to the western world during the Crusades and offered as a perk to crusaders (whence the expression “plum reward”) who left their family and possessions behind to massacre Moors in the Holy Land. Once dried, they are called prunes and can be preserved for a long time. Their laxative properties are legend.|
At once my intestines began to void. Oh! The joy I felt when I realized that at least this part of my body was fully functional! My hands, my arms, my legs and my neck may have given up on me but at this time I swear I was in Paradise!
However, after I was done and had wiped away the traces of my deed I was faced with another challenge. How was I to get up from the toilet? There were holding bars on the wall but my arms did not have the strength to lift me up.
I realized I would have to ask an orderly to help me get up from this awkward position.
There was a chain on the wall with a sign that said “EMERGENCY” in red letters. Humbly I pulled on it and after ten minutes an orderly showed up.
“Oh! Poor sir! You shouldn’t have tried to go to the bathroom by yourself! We could have brought you a commode chair!”
|Commode chairs, such as this padded specimen, were popular in the 18 and 19 centuries before the advent of sewers. To each his own, using a commode chair is not a pleasant experience yet it is better than relieving yourself in a diaper.|
Nothing can wound your pride as much as having several people witnessing the embarrassing situation you are in.
As a consolation, I thought of Dante’s Divine Comedy where the author, while travelling through Hell, met an acquaintance who had been condemned to swim for eternity in a sea of excrements because of his pride.
to have a smoke.
“That will not be possible sir,” said the orderly. “We have to put you back on your gurney. We found a permanent room for you in another ward and somebody will take you there shortly.”
As the gurney attendant was rolling my stretcher towards the elevator I was rejoicing because I believed that being transferred to a permanent room meant I was now a legitimate patient. Doctors would soon find the nature of my ailment, prescribe the appropriate treatment and I could go back home.
Alas! When the attendant pushed open the doors of the general medicine ward where I was to stay for the next several weeks a poignant stench of excrements assailed my nostrils.
I thought I was being taken to Dante’s first circle of Hell to be punished for my pride.
To be continued in Hospital Diaries VIII: Lying in the bed I made