Tuesday, June 10, 2008

As the Cuckoo Flies.

 I'm flying, soaring, land and sea rushing by below me, I'm free and exhilarated, rejoicing in the exuberant experience of zooming aloft, and I know I'm dreaming, I'm lucid, I try to direct the flight, to fly over the horizon to 'other' lands, but my self-awareness grounds the dream, I turn around, swooping inexorably back to my bed, I awake in Sydney and know, there's no escape from the mundane horrors of living. I'm happy the day has finally come for my long awaited hospitalisation, it's been cancelled twice previously and I've been stressed out, very tense that someone else will get priority, but at last my day has arrived. (It's been along time coming but beggars can't be choosers.)

I'd been going into St.Vincents hospital for 21 months trying to get them to take note of the infection bursting out of my knee and thankfully they've come to the party and admitted me for my urgent operation to take what I thought was a corrosive piece of hardware from off my shinbone. I lay in a bed for 7 hours in pre-op waiting, starving because I had to fast for 35 hours beforehand, the nurses ran about eating luscious cake from some workmate gronk who was leaving the job, the smell of it drove me crazy, and they made me crazier still with endless yapping, time-pass gossip and chitchat pleasantries, I tried to get lost in Cormac McCarthy's "All the Pretty horses" but the nurses' gronk speak had me twitching. In my fervid mind hospitals come across as houses of torture for the patients incarcerated within and for me the torture had begun very quickly. The dead corpse hanging crucified on every wall was not encouraging as to my treatment and future wellbeing, I imagined St.Vincent himself must have been martyred and I wasn't going to be allowed to forget it.

It got to 5 pm, knock-off time and I thought they'd cancel me yet again, there were trolleys lined up out the door of the surgery laden with moaning patients ready to be processed like sausages, gourmet sausages in haute cuisine as the team of medical proffesionals were the best and they went into overtime to push me thru. The surgery team led by Dr. Woody did a bang-up job in resurrecting my leg, it feels like it's on the way to health at long last and I can only say, "7 cheers for the Auz medicare system and St.Vinnies' geniuses." (Except it should've been done 21 months ago!)

I was wheeled onto Ward 7, (yes, in my torrid life, it's always got to be 7), it's a public ward and my bad luck that in the next bed was a schitzophrenic bum with a broken leg who 24/7 muttered to himself and abusesd loudly any staff member who went near him. He'd been Scheduled, (made a ward of the State as a helpless, unmanageable madman), and he had a "special" nurse by his bedside all day and night long, but he was not as nutty as he made out, his curses were very clever, almost poetic in their hair-tearing descriptions, Tourettes-like he supposedly couldn't help himself, he sure was the most offensive fellow I've ever come across and I've met legion. He yelled non-stop that nurses were "fat prostitutes, whores and sluts, the cleaners were dirty Asian chinks who should fuck off back to Asia, they spread their legs too wide, they should shut their legs, everyone was a fucking wog poofter cunt..." on and on, he zeroed in on a person's weak point so that an older nurse was an old dried up hag who looked a hundred and ten and I in the next bed was a whinging poofter arsehole because I told him to shut up every hour or so.

This went on for 3 nights, I didn't sleep a wink, his "special" slept like a brick while he switched his TV on and off muttering curses all the while. At one point in the deep of the night his "special" woke up, a little Indian fellow, and said, "Peter darling, please go to sleep." Peter darling exploded, "Don't call me fucking darling, you little cocksucker, I'll tear your fucking head off if you call me darling again!" I never heard a peep out of the Indian guy for the rest of the night. For all the egregious insults the staff fell over themselves trying to placate his noxious temper, pouring saccharine solicitudes upon him, getting him coffee whenever he wanted it, all of them trampling over me to get to him, me not asking for anything, just trying patiently to put up with the furore, laughing in hysterical embarrassment at his barbed quotes, mollifying the hurt feelings of the nurses as they tumbled from his bedside curtains onto my bed with hospital furniture flying after them. His name, ironically, was Mr. Fairfoot and I couldn't resist a dig at him on my last day in that public ward before I ran away.

"Oh Peter darling?" I heard him grunt and curse, "Whaddayawant, poof?" "Peter darling, you need a fair foot in the arse! Shut your filthy mouth!" And what do you know, he did shut up, for an hour or so, all those nursey condolances were a waste of time, he needed the truth told to his crabby face. Then his Asian nurses came back and tried some gentle procedure on him like sponging him down and I heard him scream, "No, don't spread my legs, dont spread my legs, you murderers, you fucking Asian murderers, you're trying to fuck me!"

In between all this brouhaha there was a Chinese male nurse fussing about, quite fey and I suspect he was 'gay', he hovered over a teenage Korean lad with a wounded foot in the bed opposite me, bullshitting the kid to tears. "How are your studies at high school?" "Good, I like the Australian school system." "But Australians are so free-wheeling, they don't try hard enough, it's all too easy for them, they're so lazy and unmotivated, many end up on the dole or as drug addicts." "No way. I like it that I can choose subjects that interest me and I can concentrate on them, not like in Asian schools where you have to study too much and are force-fed so much stuff you don't need to know, it makes all the kids neurotic and there's lots of suicides from all the pressure." "I've only been here for a couple of years but I think it's all too easy for the Aussies, they're so slack, so unmotivated, they just run around like delinquents with no real discipline. In China we'd crack the whip and they'd jump right smart."

I could'nt take the running down of my country any longer and I called the lisping taskmaster over. "If you don't like it here why don't you go back to China and get 7 bucks a month for slaving over a hot patient all day long? Think about it, Auz has a population of only 21 million and yet we have the world's best in science, the arts, sports, humanitarian aid, the movies, you name it we're in the thick of it. And why? Because we have a true pluralist democracy and free market economy, freedom brings out the best in us. In China you'd be harvested for your organs and in America you'd die on a street corner if you couldn'y pay a fortune for the healthcare on offer. I'm so glad I'm an Australian, here I am in St.Vincents and getting top care and I haven't got a cent to my name." "Oh, so you're a SOCIALIST?" he says, as tho it's a dirty word. "Let's say we're capitalists with a kind regard for humanity." He mouthed a few vapid pleasantries and probably marked me in the nursing report, "Trouble-maker, to be observed!"

On my third night Mr. Footrot blessedly fell asleep and I thought at last I might get some rest but at 2 am, just as I was dozing off, the old fellow opposite me, who seemed to be dying, started calling for help, over and over, and confusedly fingering his remote control, switching his lights and radio on and off for an hour with nobody coming to resolve the ruckus. Finally the RN showed up and brusquely told the ancient nothing could be done for him, then whisking himself back to some inner sanctum from where I gathered he didn't like to be disturbed. The old man drifted into unconsciousness but accidentally turned on his radio, bad 'seventies pop songs blared out, each one worse than the crap tune before it, on about song number 7 I was fit to be brain-fried, "your kiss, your kiss is on my lips...." repeated ad nauseum, I wanted to vomit, it went on and on shredding the quietude and nobody came to turn it off.

I could've buzzed the nurse but I didn't bother. After 3 nights awake listening to the sounds of the ward, but for the moaning of patients, no one stirred and I had the intuition that in the graveyard hours between 2 and 4 the RN was off sleeping somewhere and would be difficult to rouse, so I got out of bed on my crutches and staggered over to the old fellow's side of the room thinking to turn the radio off myself. I could see an orderly standing 7 feet away in an office gazing dumbly into space and ignoring the creaky radio noise, but he snapped to attention when he spied me hovering on my crutches, and rushing over to me he growled, "What are you doing out of bed?" Dimple-chinned like Chesty Bond and hairy as an ape, he had a look of contempt on his white-trash face as if he hated me on sight.

"Can you turn the radio off, it's been going for half an hour and disturbing us badly."
"Pipe down!" "What?" "Pipe down, you're making too much noise!" "If you really cared about the noise you would've come and turned the radio off, you were just over there." "Shut up and go back to bed, you'll wake everyone!" "Don't talk to me like that or I'll really start screaming! You obviously don't care about the noise or us patients at all!" "If you don't like the service here you can pay and go next door to the private hospital!" I flipped and hobbled back to my bed, from behind my curtains chundering, "What a great response, the caring nurse! Is that what the hospital pays you to say to the patients, you little arsehole?"

As if we patients are the enemy and the Medico army must close ranks against us, the RN rushed out from his hidey-hole flapping his hands and squawking,
"Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me! Stop giving the wardsman a hard time! Stay in your bed and shut up!" I blew my top, this was bad voodooo, "Don't speak to me like that! You're supposed to try to find the problem, soothe my shattered nerves and get me back to sleep comfortable and healing, not talk to me like a warder talks to a crim in a gaol!"
"If you don't be quiet I'll call the security guards, we have ways of dealing with unco-operative patients!" He dumped a few more emotionless threats and pseudo-caring platitudes on me like cups of cold water with a prim little smile and I shuddered, recalling "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest" and what the authorities did to patients they thought were rocking the boat and disturbing their ordered world.

"What's this, the Nurse Ratshit routine? Cold threats and psyche manipulation all with a smug pretense of the caring nurse to control the unruly? I happen to be a RN too and I know that you're not giving me proper nursing. You've been in the job too long, you should change professions." He gave me that smug, cruel smile again, he had those coke-bottle glasses with tiny, piggy eyes behind them, a look I've long distrusted and been wary of, and sure enough, he is the fascist his beady eyes denote. "We must control you as you are an abusive patient resisting care!" Our bad ping-pong match is now teetering on the edge of mayhem. "Oh, it's Ok for Mr.Wrongfoot to abuse the shit out of everyone, you all come running and he gets special treatment. Maybe the only way to get any attention around here is to be abusive?" "Mr.Wrongfoot is Scheduled and needs special care. I'll get you Scheduled and then you can yell all you want." Images of Jack Nicholson flood thru me and my kidneys quake with adrenalin.

The imbroglio must have woken up Footrot's "special" nurse, who he referred to as the "overweight blonde slut", because suddenly she came charging thru the curtains jabbering, "Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me!" and I felt under attack by harpies who all had the same raucous cry, "Excuse me!"

"Oh bloody hell! I've been awake and listening for 3 nights now and I'm pretty sure your only concern is that we're disturbing your pat routine of sleeping because I've not seen nor heard a movement from any staff for hours on end." Now it's Beady Eyes turn to flip and he rushes about like Captain Bligh trying to regain control of his ship.

"If you want to see what I do in the night I won't allow you the privilege of privacy curtains!" He tore about the room dragging open all the curtains around the beds so that we helpless patients were open to each other's hapless gaze. "Now you can see it all. And you can have the lights on as well!" He ran over to the dying ancient's bed opposite me and switched on his bedlights, disregarding that it might tip the old fellow over into the Void, and hot white daggers of light pierced my eyes, I flung my arm over my face and groaned, "You vicious little sadist! You cruel little bastard, turn those lights off! What is this, Guantanamo Bay? You're in trouble big time now! I'm reporting you for cruelty!"

At my heartfelt protests he snapped back into some semblance of sanity, realised he'd gone over the edge and quickly switched the lights off and replaced the curtains around the beds. He sidled over to me and tried a few more psycho controlling mechanisms, unctuous nursing cliche's like "what a hard job it is for us poor nurses" but my only response was to mutter, "Don't come the overworked nurse crap with me, you really blew it. I'm a RN too, I know what your duties are. I'm going to report you to the Nursing Unit Manager, the Supervisor, whoever, what you just did was outrageous!" He slunk off and left me to stew in my rancour, I lay awake all night fuming, determined to either complain to the heavens or leave at the crack of dawn.

The frumpy blonde "special" fussed about for awhile, pretending she was an assiduous nurse and when she passed by my bed I couldn't help but wail in sarcasm, "Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me!" She bustled behind my curtains, "Do you want something?" "Not from you, Miss Passive Agressive! Go back to sleep, you were happier that way!" I hear expelled breath, as if from the nostrils of a dragon, and sure enough it doesn't take long before she clunks back into her comfy chair and snores the wee hours away. In the morning she again made a great show of being the concerned nurse, yelling "Oh Mr.Wrongfoot, can I get you a cup of coffee? Oh Mr.Wrongfoot, do you want your TV on?" I knew she'd made this racket on purpose, to get to me, she was indeed Miss Passive Aggressive. I might've calmed down by now but the nerve-slicing gabble of the televison hosts with their endless inane psycho-babble again had my mercury rising and my brains hit the ceiling.

The beady-eyed RN shuffled in to give me my morning anti-biotics. I refused them and told him I was leaving, he thought he had me trapped there but it wasn't a gaol, I'd been tortured enough, I couldn't take it any more, I was free to go. I packed my bag while he told me, "Good! The hospital will be glad to see the last of you!" "Great! I'm leaving then, and I'll be making my complaint to the authorities, you can count on it!" He realised this was serious shit, he hadn't achieved the quiet ward he longed for. "Oh, you'll hurt my feelings. Haven't I been good to you the last few nights?" "No, you haven't! You did nothing! I had to buzz for my painkillers, I even had to buzz for a urine bottle, you didn't come near me. And then you tortured me. It was beyond the pale, don't you get it? You should change shifts, maybe even jobs, you can't handle night nursing at all!"

I was so flustered I packed my bag willy-nilly but had a bag of blood attached to my mummified leg draining seepage from my wound and I didn't want to have to drag it with me down the street. The RN, Daniel in the lion's den, had retreated, aghast that I'd refused his nursing care, so not thinking anyone's looking, I got my penknife from my bag and used the scissors on it to cut the drainage line, I could see the blood had coagulated and wouldn't be a problem. I figured I'd recovered well from the surgery, it's done and over and I don't have to stay in this torture house for more third degree treatment. As I limped towards the nursing station on my crutches with rucksack on my back, Danniel sidled over and presented me with a self-discharge form which I signed and scribbled across the bottom, "For torture by the night RN." He went back to his station and got on the phone, to the Nursing Unit Manager I suppose, so as I went past him I yelled, "I bet he's saying I'm an unruly patient but the truth is he tortured me and I'm leaving because of the bad nursing." I then limped on out of there.

I got a cab home, quiet, peaceful, blessed Northcott Ghetto, home sweet home. Then the phone rang, the hospital authorities want to know why I've fled, I quickly moaned my story about the cruel night RN and say I haven't slept for 3 nights. Then the boss nurse says, "What's this about a knife?" " What do you mean? I used scissors on my pen-knife to cut the drainage line, why?" "The RN says you threatened him with a knife!" "What? That rotten little scoundrel! He's just trying to cover his arse, lie about some big drama when the truth is he did something very cruel to me in the night and I told him I'd complain. Now he's compounding his villainy by lying. It's outrageous, why would I do it? He didn't get Security, he didn't stop me from leaving, I even signed a discharge form, and I was on crutches, how could I threaten him? It didn't even enter my mind, I didn't even swear at him, just called him a bad nurse and left. I'm never coming back to your hospital, it's a terrible story all round!" "Alright Toby, get some sleep, we'll deal with these problems later once you're rested."

I told him I'd go to my GP to get the drainage line taken out of my wound and I had a stash of anti-biotics in my flat that should take care of any residue infection. Then I fell asleep absolutely delerious with acrimony, the injustice of it all, that rotten little fucker, he knows he's in deep shit and now he's committed a crime by lying in his nursing report to save his job. I slept for 24 hours in deep depression and then awoke to the real world to carry on the battle of life.

I went to my GP, told him the whole sorry tale and he commiserated with me then took the drainage line from my surgery wound and redressed it. When I got back home the phone rang interminably, I knew who it was and didn't want to answer it but on and on it rang, like some alarm in a fire-storm. Resigned to a beat-up I answered it, it was a St. Vinnies doctor to whom I blurted the whole saga and insisted I wasn't returning for more bad treatment. He told me there was a complication, the infection from my leg was a Multiple Resistant Staph bug that I'd picked up somewhere along the way and I needed special intra-venous anti-biotics that I could only get in the hospital and it was absolutely necessary that I come back in. Again I said no, I'd rather die than go back to that torture house and I spewed out more on the subject of sadistic nurses controlling their territory regardless of a patient's wellbeing, he seemed to listen but I think he was just humouring me. He told me I risked losing my leg and worse and not to be stupid and with much cajoling I let him talk me round and back I went.

I lay in Emergency for 2 days and listened to the cries of woe around me. An old couple in their seventies came in, the wife had a viral infection, they were asked if they had Health Insurance, they assured the doctor they did so he said he'd get her her own room in the Private Hospital next door. An hour later he returned and said no room was available in Private and she'd have to go up to a public ward. I saw the two of them eyeball each other as if to say, "what was the use of paying all that money?" I felt somewhat vindicated in my dependance on the Public system, only millions of dollars would get you special, first class treatment it seemed.

Against my wishes I was eventually wheeled back up to Ward 7, full of dread, feeling like mad Jack returned from his escape attempt and about to face the smug Nurse Ratshit who'd won another battle against the enemy, intransigent patients, and I could now be brain-fried into compliance with orderly hospital regimes. Miraculously I was put in a private room, quite luxurious with a panoramic view of Paddington and becalming classical music lilting, somewhat like the "Euthanasia room" I had wished St.Vincents would send me to as I was mighty tired of the injustices of this world and wanted an end put to it all, like in the movie "Soylent Green".

From then on an army of healthworkers fussed over me, the cruel Nurse Ratshit was not seen or heard of, maybe they'd shipped him off to some dungeon freezer for time out. I was soothed and embalmed in a torrent of joyful considerations, smiled upon like I was a three-year old retard or a dangerous maniac who needed sunny pretensions when approached, and I decided to let sleeping dogs lie, St.Vincents had enough troubles with the hordes of cripples, druggies and loonies hammering at their doors, they didn't need extra woe from me, and I didn't need the grief, I had to worry about getting my health back.

I wished that the experts had realised the nature of the infection 2 years ago when I first presented at the Fracture Clinic and I wouldn't have had to go thru all that pain and destitution, I kept telling THEM there was a problem but got fobbed off and then lost in the System. When I finally got attention it seems they put me on the wrong anti-biotics, I had an allergy to them and the problem was not healed, in fact was exacerbated for a long, uncomfortable year. But what the hell, beggars can't be choosers, that crappy cliche always applies to us third-class white-trash demi-monde lumps, (convict blood will out!), regardless of the fact that as a 7th generation Australian my ancestors had slaved over and fought hard for everything this country has on offer.

On my last night in the hospital I watched a TV documentary on SBS comparing Healthcare Systems around the world, America, England, Germany, Japan, Taiwan and Switzerland and, apart from America where I would've been left for dead years ago, Australia didn't compare well. In most so called developed countries I would've been treated sooner and healed quicker, considered by the government as a legitimate citizen and not as a third-class beggar. Good health care is a basic human right, what else are governments for if not the welfare of it's citizenry?

The TV program following after was a wonderful documentary called "The Weeping Camel" about the lifestyle of Mongolians. A mother camel had rejected her white colt and wouldn't suckle him and the Mongolians got in a violinist to play to the creatures, reconciling them, the mother camel weeping at the beauty of the music and, as it played, letting her baby feed. I couldn't help but weep in parallel as I was a baby who never got suckled by his mother but no violins played for me, except the tiny ones I'm scraping away at now. The humanity of these peasants was endearing and I thought of all the poor humans around the world suffering and needing help, and all those giving succour out of love and altruism, and I wept for toiling humanity, in the main innocent and fragile. We have such a beautiful, sweet caring side to our nature, what is our problem that we can also be so cruel and exploitative? Money is not God! Love is what we need!

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.