Saturday, 9 July 2011

New stuff #1: The Day I Donated My Body To Science (I Got It Back) [semi-autobiographical]

Nervous med students prod two chunky legs of raw meat on the slab next to me. I gulp. “What’re they…?”
“Catheter training,” interrupts my trusty expert. “Don’t worry, we only use dead meat for that.”
Is that what a joke sounds like in this mysterious quasi-sci-fi academic universe?
“They’re remarkably life like,” I comment, screaming: “I may not be clever but I am am proud to be the interested sort, suitably fascinated in your worthy - yet baffling to a layman! Ho ho, silly me - pursuits.”
Trusty Expert doesn’t seem to hear. He’s fiddling with an ultrasound monitor.
“Lie back.”
Terse commands. To be a feature of the day.
Over in the communal area I hear my mates laughing. They haven’t been called to their station yet. When I go back at mid morning break (apparently even the quasi-sci-fi-academics haven’t invented an appropriate substitute for coffee) I will entertain them with my experiences, as any self-respecting ‘Nam veteran would – with an air of martyr-like matter-of-fact grace.
“Well, Martin says I have a below-average size heart for the size of my ribcage.”
Sympathetic gasps.
“But the good news is I’m not pregnant. Hahahhahaha.” Pause for reluctant laughter.
“Really though, it’s pretty uncomfortable. The bed’s really hard and half of them don’t seem to know what they’re doing with the probe. One guy fair pierced between my ribs. One of the nurses said I’d have bruising for days…”
Nic bustles up.
“Thanks so much everyone, all OK? OK? Great. Help yourself to teas and coffees. Are you warm enough? We have more gowns if you need one. Oh is that the bell? OK back to your stations. You need to be back at your stations. BACK AT YOUR STATIONS. Dr Heidenfelder? Of course! Mwah.” And off she goes, German doctor trailing his hand luggage behind him across the conference floor.
“Duty calls,” I sigh with a brave, self sacrificing smile.
‘Please move to your next station for the next stage of the Pan-European Ultrasound in Anaesthesia Conference 2011. Please try to stick to the timetable to ensure the day moves….FEEDBACK…Sorry. Please…are we on? Ahem. All delegates please move to your next station.’
Back on the gurney. Or is that just something off ER?
“Can anyone identify kidney? Anyone? OK, you. Yes, you. Here you go.”
Another blob of freezing gel is squidged onto my exposed abdomen, which is creamy white in the fluoro conference light and vaguely heaving with each intake of breath. I think of the last time I lay exposed like this…no. Focus. Fat doctors with coffee breath are looming over you for important medical research purposes. Do not muddy the lines of professional lump of meat, I mean, specimen – no, what do they call us? Volunteers. Do not muddy the waters of professional volunteer for medical science with lewd references.
Amateur. Even I can tell Trusty Expert is slightly fatigued by these so called colleagues.
“Not quite. What else might we find in the left upper quadrant? Anyone? Anyone? Yes, you.”
Everyone jumps.
 “OK so it’s not kidney. If you...” he takes matters into his own hands, reaching across my chest dangerously close to my heaving ribcage and I politely look the other way so as not to embarrass him.  So as not to embarrass HIM?! I’m the one half naked on a bench in a floodlit arena of medical nitwits. I draw breath.
“If Natalie could just stop breathing for a moment, so we can get a clear view…”
I stop.
“Ah! That’s it. Thank you. There we go. Left kidney.”
Mild ripples of appreciation.
I’m still not breathing.
“So you can see…” he rotates the cold metal probe and gently but firmly explores my left anterior ribcage. “Spleen…diaphragm…kidney. Who’s next?”
“Can she breathe yet?” Top marks to the nurse with the bedside manner.
More ripples – this time laughter.
“Of course. Sorry Natalie.”
Exhale. Relief. This is tougher than I expected. I’m Natasha though. But anyway.
‘Five minute warning!’
Rock’n’roll jobsworth is back with her feedback.
Trusty Expert looks irritated. His lecture is cut short.
“OK we better skip to any questions?”
Bedside Manner has her hand up. “What if the injuries are too severe to perform ultrasound techniques?”
Six pairs of expectant eyes focus on Trusty Expert and I assume this is quite a good question. WhaddoIknow?
“Let’s put this in perspective. You’re in ER. You’ve got a level one trauma, severe bleeding, unconscious, air bag, surgeon breathing down your neck, wants to send him for an MRI. If you send that patient to MRI you lose what, ten? Fifteen? How about you want to convince this surgeon you don’t need that? The patient has internal bleeding and needs  to go straight to OT. Ultrasound lets you do that. Next question.”
They shuffle on, put in their place. I am proud. “Is that true?” I feel I can talk to Trusty Expert.
He nods. No words wasted.
He kind of smiles. “Yes. Yes I suppose it is ‘cool’.”
Later on, de-gowned, I bump into him coming out of the toilets.
“Hi!” I beam.
Nothing. He doesn’t recognise my clothed body. Just the heaving lump of meat.
I don’t care. These people…they’re like…something from a sci-fi novel.
One of my mates bumbles up, drawstrings on his scrubs trailing behind him, face all red from where he’s been suspended half upside down for gluteus maximus inspection.
“Coming to the pub? We’re going to blow the earnings?” He triumphantly waves a fifty in my face.
“Nah. I’m gonna stick around. Nic says we can check out the evening lectures. Might be interesting.”
He snorts and patters off to don his everyday uniform.
Rock’n’roll feedback pipes up.
I slope off at a modest distance behind the Intelligent Ones and snatch a line or two of conversation.
“…of course the problem with that is the training budget was slashed again this year, so I pretty much funded the trip myself…luckily my aunt lives over in the road…”
“Really? No. Honestly? I’ve never had that. The worst I had was the guy with the Lego brick stuck in his….yep. No really! Well he was about 30 but of course he blamed the kids…”
Into a phone…It’s me…Hope you’re OK. Sorry about the mess. Had to dash off to this conference. Catch you back at the hotel. We’re going to dinner now. Buffet. Your fave. OK, well. Catch you later…
Gurneys lie bare of paper roll on the half lit carpet tiled floor, suspended in stillness. Ultrasound machines sleep, awaiting more specimens…more volunteers to prove their worth. Scrubs are piled in Bags for Life, ready for washing. Domestic bliss meets medical research. Life saving techniques meet lacklustre lifers in the public health prison of inefficiency and neverending change.
I walk away on my own two legs, freestanding, thankful.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Another one from the vaults

I don't do poetry. I never have. I don't have a reason, just that prose always seemed more...precise. The young me thought that poetry, with it's limitless imagery and apparent lack of form or rules or quality control (!) was a lazy way of expressing things. Like text speak - short form for what you really mean.

Now I know that some poetry has as many, if not more, rules than prose, and is by no means lazy expression. It might even be the only way of truly capturing some states of emotion. But I don't really know anything about it so I've never tried.

The only thing I've written that's approaching poetic in terms of form and style, is what I am about to post here.

I wrote it - or rather, it forced it's way out of me onto the page, against my will - just before I got married about a year and a half ago. My mum died three years ago and her absence seemed heightened by the approaching nuptials to the point where I  was worried it would be the elephant in the room and would stop people enjoying themselves....So I decided that if anyone should tackle the problem head on, it should be me, thereby getting it out of the way so that the other people who made speeches didn't have to worry about it. My dear husband agreed to read it out, as I knew I wouldn't get through it.

Although it's hardly Keats, and probably doesn't follow any poetic rules, it sort of said what I needed to say at the time and for that I am proud of it.

It's called: What did I miss?

I can see her now, awaking from sleep,
And the first words on her lips, “What did I miss?”

I’ll say “Not much really,” but she won’t believe me.
Because the years will have passed, but it might go like this:

Well mum, I married the man of my dreams.
“Oh I knew that would happen,” she would say, “What else?”

Dad moved to Cyprus, “Without me?! How dare he?!”
Jase had a baby, “Wow that was a first!” With a poke in the ribs.

Haha mum, you’re so funny. “What else? What else?”
Well, we watched this old system buckle and groan,
We did our best not to falter, although we missed you so,
We laughed and drank, and cried some too,
And so much love was shown for you, and because of you.

And although on my wedding day, I knew you would have looked the best,
I was content just knowing you were at rest.
Because safe with my Nicholas I knew the days would fly by,
Until you could wake up and say, with a smile on your lips,
“Tell me, tell me – what did I miss?”

Friday, 1 July 2011

Getting over it...

Thanks to a good chat with a good friend, I have reminded myself that:
1. I can't expect to not write anything for years, then suddenly write something perfect.
2. Most authors say they write a lot of dross before they write something they are happy with.
3. Being undecided about what I want to write is not a good reason not to write.

These are really three aspects of the same problem I suppose. And while I still don't feel massively motivated about this whole writing lark, I think I can maybe write a bit more dross without getting *too* frustrated and hanging up my proverbial writing hat forever.

Argh. Stand by - some more dross coming this way soon. You might want to duck.