by Keith Addison
Hong Kong Life magazine Oct. 1994-Jan. 1996
The Valley of the Lost Decade
How to Spend 12 Weeks in Bed
Pass the Doggie Bag
If Pigs Could Fly They Wouldn't Need Cars
Stealer of Souls
On the Slow Train with a Skinful of Wine
The Neighbourhood Dragon
From 1994 to 1932 in Only Three Minutes
Singing and Laughing
Have Nose, Will Follow
Harrods to Sell Elixir-of-Life
Galahad's Secret Mission
Escape to Shangri-La
Put it in Your Pocket
What Johnny Should Have Said
The Cockroaches Went in Two by Two
A Complaint to the Inspector of Thunderstorms
How to Spend 12 Weeks in Bed
I was riding a motorbike to work one morning when an oncoming car swung across to take a right turn and came straight at me. I braked hard and it just missed me, but I didn't miss it, and hit the passenger door at about 60 kph. The bike upended, shooting me straight over the car, swooping through the air like Superman, to land some distance down the road with a bonecrushing thud.
___"That was exciting, till the bit at the end," I told myself deliriously as I lay there, not realising I'd torn up my legs on the handlebars at the start of my death-defying (I hoped) swoop.
___My eyes were still closed -- why had I closed them? Must've been terror or something -- no wonder I'd landed all wrong. I tried opening them and saw my bike, a beautiful yellow Norton Commando, lying crumpled in the road some distance away, severely wounded. There was a blue flash as it blew a fuse, and then it exploded and died. Could this be an omen?
___Meanwhile screams were coming from the guilty car, which was slewed across the road nearby. It was the driver's teenage daughter, unhurt, but I'd given her such a fright, poor thing.
___Then I noticed all the blood, and started counting my blessings instead -- I hadn't landed on my head, I could still see, I could hear, and it wasn't me screaming. Then the driver -- a woman -- was standing over me, weeping, and, like any biker, I knew what she was going to say. She said it -- "I just didn't see you!"
___"Nobody's perfect," I told her, but just then I fainted. I'd crushed my left hand and broken my left thigh near the hip, and generally taken a beating. I surfaced in an ambulance, then again in an x-ray theatre, where a face loomed and told me: "You're not suffering from shock," but before I could argue I passed out again. Then I was in a hospital bed, with badly cut legs and my hand hanging from a metal hook above me like a raw ham. The broken thigh didn't hurt nearly so much as the hand, but it made horrible inner grinding noises when I moved.
___Someone stuck a needle in me and I faded out again while surgeons hammered a 20-cm chromed steel nail through my left shinbone below the knee, in one side and out the other, and put the lower leg and foot in plaster to support the nail.
___I came round back in the ward, with doctors fitting a steel cage to my leg, connecting pulleys and weights to the chrome nail, and then hoisting the whole thing up towards the ceiling so my leg pointed in the air, like my arm.
___"Traction," one of the doctors said briskly when they finished. "That's a Steinman Pin," he added, tapping the chrome nail with his screwdriver.
___"He means a Frankensteinman Pin," a crazed inner voice cackled in my ear, but I didn't think that was funny at all.
___"It should take about 16 weeks," the doctor went on. Did he say 16 weeks? I wasn't sure I was conscious yet, but I sure wasn't dreaming the completely unreasonable pain in my crushed hand -- I didn't need a timetable, I needed drugs.
___"Doctor," I began, and talked myself into a supply of serious medication, one eight-hour shot a day for three days. By the next day I'd found a hole in the system and doubled this meagre apportionment to two shots a day, or three on a good day, which went on for a very blurred week before they figured it out. But when the final shot wore off, the slightly irritating background buzzing from my hand amplified into something that merely hurt like hell instead of engulfing me.
___The ward sister visibly lacked sympathy. "You're going to have a hell of a hangover," she said. "Serves you right."
___She was right. But when the beautiful Petra, my true love, visited me later she had two bottles of Smirnoff in her bag, which soon killed the hangover.
___That was when I met Henry. He'd been there for months, with both legs broken in a head-on car crash and his feet badly burnt. We spent the next 12 weeks about a foot apart, without ever seeing each other. The bed I was trapped in was at the end of a dividing wall, and the bed he was trapped in was on the other side of it. We hadn't met yet because I'd been in a drugs daze.
___Henry was snoring when Petra arrived at visiting hour (which lasted 30 minutes). He was still snoring when the drugs trolley arrived, signalling time up for visitors.
___"It's the dreaded trolley," said Petra inanely as the nurse caught her trying to hide the vodka bottles. The nurse glared. Petra smiled disarmingly. The nurse shook her head, gave me my prescription and moved on to Henry without a word.
___"I guess she's got a date tonight, she doesn't want any trouble," said Petra. The nurse woke poor Henry, who badly needed his sleep, taking it out on him.
___"Bloody hell!" Henry exploded.
___"He needs a drink," I said.
___"She gave me a sleeping pill," said Henry, aggrieved. Petra poured three more drinks and got up to give one to Henry.
___"Hello," she said, staggering a bit. "Cheers!"
___Henry thought she was an angel. So did I.
___The trolley nurse cleared out the last of the visitors, ignoring my drunk angel, and left. An hour later we were well into the second bottle and Henry had eaten all the drugs too.
___"We have to hide Petra," I decided.
___"Yes, from the authorities," she agreed, and spent some time erecting screens and curtains around the two beds while Henry and I offered advice. "There!" she said, collapsing into her chair. "I need a drink."
___Safely hidden, the three of us had a rowdy party, and nobody disturbed us. Much later, the vodka finished, Petra climbed into bed on my unbroken side and we all fell asleep.
___The night sister woke us at dawn. "Time to go," she told Petra. "I've called a taxi for you."
___"Ugh," said Petra blearily. "Thanks." She got rid of the evidence, washing the glasses, putting the empties in her bag. Henry was snoring.
___"See you tonight," Petra told me. "Unless this hangover kills me."
___The sister grinned at her. She grinned back. "Got any aspirin?"
___"Sure," said the sister. They left. I fell asleep.
___"I took a chance and told the nurses to leave you alone," the sister told me later. "We hadn't ever heard Henry laughing before."
___That night the dreaded trolley dispensed us each a couple of tots of good brandy, Petra too.
___"Things look up," said Henry. But the night sister was soon replaced by a humourless person who definitely would have preferred a cattle-prod to a thermometer, and she made herself unpleasant until Henry complained and the registrar ticked her off: "These men are in a great deal of pain," he told her. "They're not causing any real trouble, so don't make it more difficult for them."
___The weeks crawled by. The three doctors handling my case seemed to have worryingly contradictory theories about my treatment, so I borrowed the x-rays and Petra took them to a private specialist. "I can't interfere, but get him out of there," he said.
___The plaster on my leg was chafing so I persuaded the doctors to remove it. "We'll replace it tomorrow," they said after cutting it away with a power saw, cutting my leg several times too -- all according to plan, excepting the cuts.
___That was also the day Henry got out of bed at last, and into a wheelchair. We stared at each other -- "So that's what you look like!"
___The nurses took their afternoon break. Henry wheeled off to raid the dispensary, returning with bandages, disinfectants, painkillers, brandy, scalpels, surgical saws, thermometers, swabs, and a variety of unidentified but promising looking drugs which he quickly stashed in his pillow. I taped a sticky bandage round the Frankensteinman Pin through my shin and pulled, and it slid out, like part of a machine. Henry sloshed some disinfectant on the wound. Disconcertingly, it went through the hole and came out the other side. We were just swigging down the brandy when the ward sister came in.
___What a fuss -- "You'll be a cripple for the rest of your life," she told me, and the hospital discharged me for interfering with the course of treatment. "Right," I said. "Get me a wheelchair and I'll call a taxi."
___"I'm sorry sir, we can't give you any further treatment."
___Petra rescued me that evening, commandeering a wheelchair, and after an emotional parting with Henry, she took me home, into the care of the specialist, who did this and that and said I'd be walking in a few weeks, and so I was. My first outing was on crutches, to the magistrate's court to testify against the driver, who lost her licence and got a heavy fine. She glared at me, I glared back.
___I hobbled out of the courtroom and bumped straight into Henry, who was trying to hobble in. After we calmed down, he told me the evil night sister, determined to get him, had searched his possessions while he was asleep and found some marijuana in his briefcase, so she called the police, who put him on a stretcher and took him to jail. His secretary sprung him two days later. Now he was facing a drugs charge. I went back in to listen.
___"I didn't know I had it," said Henry, pale and crippled in the dock. "I was in Swaziland on business before the accident, and a government man gave it to me. Obviously I couldn't refuse, so I put it in my briefcase and forgot about it.
___"I drink a lot these days," he added. "What would I want with marijuana? It doesn't kill the pain."
___The magistrate gave the prosecutor, the police, the night sister and the hospital an earbashing, made them apologise to Henry and dismissed the case. He glared down at the unhappy prosecutor: "Got any criminals?"
___We hobbled from the court. Outside Henry stopped and leaned on my shoulder, and we burst out laughing.
___"Let's go and kill the pain," I said.
___"What pain?" he said.
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