The night was awful. Nightmarish. I didn’t attempt to sleep until close to midnight. The sounds around me of old men in pain or discomfort were psychologically disturbing.
I could understand why. I think some of my humanity was stripped away by my experience in the evening, when I insisted on taking a shower. This meant being assisted into the shower, with nurse Breena holding my piss bag and tubes, while I wheeled the drip stand, holding two big three liter fluid bags that were constantly flushing my bladder.
There’s a strange kind of intimacy between a shattered man and any woman standing in for mother, helping him to peel off a blood-soaked hospital gown, paying no attention to his penis, sprouting the obscene catheter tube branching out into three–the input, the output, and the capped channel used to inflate and deflate the saline-filled balloon in the bladder that keeps the whole thing in place.
And there’s a strange kind of pride in being able to manage, on my own, to peel away the pieces of absorbent underlay material I had been lying on that was now glued to my buttocks by the iodine and blood it was designed to absorb. To shower with a plastic bag over my right hand, protecting the cannula inserted into a large vein there. To juggle the tubes hanging freely under my penis, suspended solely by the water-filled balloon inside my bladder. Letting me know my fragile state with every movement, no matter how careful.
But that pride is just a mask for the total helplessness I felt in my state. Getting back into a hospital gown, with my arse hanging out naked at the back, and onto a freshly made bed, with the large square of quilted absorbent material presaging that I would bleed more. Leak more. Be in this state more.
Night fell. I tried to avoid it with Rififi, some of Borsalino & Co, and Ross Macdonald’s Sleeping Beauty on my laptop. A small saving grace. I did drift off to sleep at some stage. I remember dreaming of being chased by a zombie, and trying to work out how to decapitate him.
I woke badly at around two, when the night nurse tried to take my readings (blood pressure and temperature). I must have pulled on the tubes awkwardly while turning in bed. I was in sharp and ongoing pain for quite a while, and I bled onto the absorbent underlay, which acted like a big sanitary pad. The night nurse gave me analgesics whose name I can’t remember. The drugs zoned me out and let me sleep until she came the next time at 04:30.
By that time I refused pain killers. The last lot had dried out my mouth and made me feel hung over. Instead I asked whether there was a place patients could make tea or coffee. She offered very kindly to get one for me. Coffee. White. No sugar, please. I had it in minutes. Cheap and nasty instant that tasted like heaven.
The rest of the ward was finally in silent routine. Until way after six. When the night shift was rotating out.
In one of those execrable pieces of timing you find in large bureaucracies, the doctors in the hospital make their rounds at the same time as breakfast is being served. Not that they interrupted my meal. Two individually cellophaned, limpid slices of multigrain bread, with two single-serve patties of margarine, and two single serve tubs of Vegemite. Plus the tea–someone’s used socks recycled optimistically as ‘King of Ceylon’ teabags. They always give you an extra teabag, knowing the first alone will barely colour the water.
The doctors came as a gaggle. So young and earnest. At least mine weren’t those arrogant white boys in their RM Williams boots and chequered shirts, affecting country-boy private school, rugby team credentials. What kind of doctor wants you to think of him as a country boy rugby player?
My ‘consultant’ was an Asian surgeon, Dr Esler. I greeted him with: ‘Please tell me this thing’s coming out’, pointing at the tubes snaking out obscenely from under my hospital gown.
Esler pursed his lips and nodded curtly like a Prussian military officer. His glasses and abrupt way of talking made him seem almost like a cartoon character lampooning a Japanese scientist.
He told me how he had pulverized the ‘massive’ stone with a laser. How he had incised the neck of my bladder. He stated succinctly that the frontal lobe of the prostate needed to be shaved back to prevent it from pushing up the bladder, leaving a lagoon in which stale urine would pool and eventually solidify into the mineral crystals we call stones. But not exactly what he done to my prostate–that little gland that secretes the seminal fluid which transports sperm. I still don’t know whether that means he removed the entire lobe facing forward, or just part of it. My GP will have the clinical notes, and will explain. I suppose I will find out soon enough what his little procedure cost my future amorous intentions. The risk is ‘retrograde ejaculations’. Nothing coming out. All being sucked back into the bladder.
The ward nurses were busy doing something mysterious, bloody, and prolonged behind the curtains of bed 12, opposite me, occupied by Ray Gorman. A vacant-eyed, slack-jawed, open mouthed, wizened old man who talked in his sleep and used his bed adjuster all night like a little kid: Dzeeee, dz, dz, dzz, dzeeeeeeee, dzz, dz, dz, dz, dzeee. At least five minutes every hour.
He received bad news that day about a prostate operation he will have that night. The news led to the making of powers of attorney, a lengthy discussion later on about the conditions under which he would not want to be revived, and a series of phone calls in which he was saying goodbye to the people in his life.
The contrast made me feel guilty about being annoyed by his night-time antics, and feeling impatient about having my catheter removed so I could run away from the hospital as fast as I could.
The nurses moved on to bed number 13. Antony Overton, the whiteboard above his bed said. Only slightly younger than Ray, he was headed for temporary accommodation until his next procedure. I don’t know what that procedure would be, but he was talking about three days’ travel to get to the hospital in the first place: he seems to live in the deepest darkest bush outback. I knew him best of all for spending all night getting the nurses to arrange and re-arrange his pillows to pamper some horrid injury to his back that was secondary to his urological problem. I cursed him, last night, for discussing his discomfort without any attempt to quiet his voice. He bade me farewell today by saying ‘keep your end up’. An overtly juvenile quip from one so old.
Then they moved on to ‘the lumberjack’ in bed 14 next to me, whose name I never saw. A massively fat barrel of a man from New Zealand or the Pacific islands, who spent the entire previous night either snoring so loud I thought I was vibrating, or rustling cellophane snack packets to get at the contents.
It seems he was going to another department to get more treatment for a separate back injury. There was a lot of talk about his blood pressure. At his size I imagined it was sky high.
Finally they came to me. I had some rapport with nurse Breena and her student nurse offside Dawn. They treated me well while I was there, and I gave them no shit in return, thanking them each time they did things for me and showing polite interest in their trials and tribulations. In return they showed interest in what I was doing: typing my hospital journal on the antique Dell laptop I had prepped for my expected four-night stay in the hospital; the films I was watching on it; and my eBook reader, Calibre.
Dawn removed my cannula. I was supposed to hold down the cotton wool bud, but let go too soon; blood everywhere. But I didn’t care. That was never the main game.
Breena prepared by capping the flow of fluid into my bladder. Next she used an untipped syringe to withdraw the saline that inflated the catheter balloon inside me. And finally she said: ‘This will be a little uncomfortable’ as she pulled out the tube from my urethra.
I can remember few moments so painful. Clenching my teeth. Feeling one or two tears stream down my cheeks. Trying to control my breathing in the refined agony of the plastic tube coming away by tearing the gelatinous mass of congealed blood and lubricant.
But I also remember few moments as liberating as the shower afterwards, free of the tubes, and finished off with dressing in my clothes rather than a gown. Then wandering off the ward, down to the food court, where I ate a decidedly ‘bad’ sandwich that offended against all my new dietary rules.
What I could tell immediately was that the tell-tale weight and irritation of the stone had gone! No more fear of not being close to a toilet to bleed into. No more irritation every time I moved.
That’s not quite true. I’m still bleeding. But only as part of the recovery. Not as a permanent feature of my life, as it has been for seven months now. But for a couple of days, while the prostate and my urethra heals.
In the cab home I couldn’t help but wonder that all the idiots on the road and in the street were beautiful people whose idiocies should be forgiven, if only because they populate the world I still live in. A world Ray might say goodbye to, tonight. A world I am not done with yet.