Thursday, 4 June 2009

Eye For An Eye Through A Needle

I don’t expect folk to agree with my axiomatic system of justice. Two wrongs don’t make a right and other trite platitudes. But how can I condone the offender’s first strike by letting it go unanswered ? At best it would stand in legitimised splendid isolation. At worst, repeat prescription for endless regurgitation. My clinical intervention is to underscore that first transgression as unacceptable and to remove it from the possibility of ever being revived as a future misconduct. Two wrongs may not make a right, but they prevent a third and fourth wrong and thereby help to bolster beleagured RIGHTS.

Neither should my actions be regarded as principally retaliatory. A reflex lashing out on my part, when there is only one party here, who has demonstrated wholesale lack of self-control. My response is rather the outcome of a carefully considered retributive programme. One where the scourge is considerably scaled down from the original outrage, but nonetheless packs a powerful mental punch. A jab rather than a knockout blow. I am not some sordid GP despatching his defenceless geriatric patients into death. Nor am I some nurse compromising vulnerable newborns, so as to aggrandise the heroine within herself. The problem presenting itself here, is that my patients are too detached from their true feelings and somehow I have to reconnect them.

Pain is such a wonderful mechanism. It’s twin-tracked. First there is the local reaction, the ground zero if you will. A reflexive hyperbole to impel muscle contraction, so as to cajole the endangered area away from the source of pain. Forestalling any further damage. By the time the brain registers what has happened, the exposed area has been withdrawn. The local response signals hotwire the spinal cord, whereas the grey matter has to rely on the slower trunk route for the data to be couriered all the way up to it. ‘Feeling’ pain is the combined sensation, plus the making sense of it. This disparate forking, lends itself ideally to my purposes. And I drive a double decker bus through it.

Seemingly, they don’t feel the initial stimulus. A pinprick, hardly crosses the threshold of what they come to expect in a hospital. There is scant perturbation. The distress level scarcely flickers. The pain siren barely whimpers. Yet even if they were aware, they are unable to pull away because of the context in which it happens. They have offered up their hand or arm for a medical betrothal of some sort, just the best woman is fiddling around for the ring, or the presiding officer is stumbling over the rigmarole. Except that I’m not, I am in full command of what I’m doing. ‘Did the needle slip ?’ You shouldn’t be so nervous, quivering doesn’t help us one jot. ‘Is it ?’ Must have just missed the vein. It can be so hard to find in some patients, intravenous drug users, arteriosclerotics, (self-) abusers of whatever hue ... Raise your arm to me in entreaty and let’s go again. Only when they turn their heads, while idly flexing or even rubbing their sore arms, do they see it there as plain as the nose on the end of their face. Then their processing mind kicks in, yet is unable to interpret the immensity of this minor tribulation. They are bloodied as I am unbowed.

I say this, but in point of fact, I draw no blood other than any I am stipulated to draw. For I’ve always been a practitioner of holistic health. No matter how many rubs, squeezes, nips, pinches, prods, pokes, gropes, fondles, strokes, pats, slaps, stripes, mauls, cuffs, gouges, punches and bites I’ve been assailed by, while they don’t get easier to bear, neither do they crank up any internal ratchet of stress within me. Each one leaves its equanimous impression. Its depth charged mark. And so, in order to recover my homeostasis, I too deal out my retribution with equanimity. A proportionate refutation, of their chosen form of ugly self-expression. Commensurate with its degree of force and duration. A syringe plunger-based sliding scale.

Doctors possess an impressive array of technology to plumb the individual human body. No longer is it merely restricted to the shading of light and dark. Of presence against absence, drawn from a flat, flimsy X-ray. Now they can extrapolate contours, by bouncing sound waves. Or a stand up flurry towards precipitous magnetism. Even tracing the wakes of decaying radioactive trails provides a way in. Virtual needles rootling around in microscopic haystacks. My simple cusp does not have such a problem of scale. Is not undermined by ratio. For my pinpoint co-ordination, inexorably steers you to seek the pain source in its blatant black sea. Just below the surface of the swelling bruise. Again, I don’t anticipate you admiring what I do, but you would have to acknowledge the expertise and consistency. The impartiality and balance. Not exactly an eye for an eye. More a feel for a feel. Moving through the all-too tangible, through the intangible, back into tangibility. No one can touch me without my sanction and I never give it. But in my practice, I also invoke that other careworn moral guideline. Do unto others only as you would be done to.

How exactly is it I am such a dab hand with my unthreaded needle ? It’s not quite how we are taught in nursing college after all. Well, I admit to being fully versed in blemishing the body. My patients don’t receive any treatment that hasn’t been subjected to rigorous double blind trials. On myself. For long before I was enlisted on this campaign, I was engaged in another war of attrition. Against a debilitating foe, my own persecutor within. Metastasised by a lover I had in college. The love of my life in whatever way you care to characterise it. The man who elevated humble, little would-be nursey and made me feel special. Without pandering to any privately-borne cliches abounding around my uniform. The one who tended to my needs when I came home from work. And then one day he left. For another women he deigned to make feel uniquely cherished.

When I wasn’t trying to dissolve myself in a cataract of never-ending tears, I wanted to open myself up and let my own blood. To relieve the tumult pressing from within. Or at least I thought I did. But the blood kept bubbling, muddying the waters of self-examination. I could get no clear window into the slate black of despair within, smeared beneath the scarlet discharge. And when my scalloping dried out and began to heal, I was left with a lattice more suited to noughts and crosses, than any grid to size up and plot my shortcomings. Obviously I had to conceal the evidence of such unravelling while I was still training, after all that was the sole thing I had left of value in my life. Fortunately, treating drug abusers affords you a perfect blueprint of the body’s hard to spot venous points of entry. So my telltale scars lay unseen behind swaddling garments.

Gradually I learned to master my stroke. To bore rather than slash. I became sensitive to the different sensations along my anatomy, much like an acupuncturist and their pressure points. And I articulated the graphic language of bruising. Far more lasered definition than the dot-matrix of rent flesh. The submerged tissue had regular properties which could be reliably charted. My whole body became a dolorimeter. An analogue device with its own solicitous needle pointer. My fingertips formulated how to graduate its spectrum. They read the braille glyphs of my interior.

As I regained some vestige of control over my clotted life, the impulse to harm myself dwindled. I didn’t have to keep revisiting the bruises upon my body. Instead I followed the passing of the lush purple fruit, through crinkled yellows and olives and into shrivelled, overripe brown with the curative of time. Colour therapy. And there the whole rite of passage should have remained entombed, as I emerged into self-possessed maturity. I would never harm myself again. Partially underscored by a premature passing into a personal autumn. As newly qualified, I could content myself with more professional relationships and the satisfaction of devoting myself to other people, without ceding my being. How misguided I was. I was soon to pick up my palette knife for grinding pigment once again. Though this time the canvas was not my own. For I will not permit these invalid scum, to drive me away from nursing. Like I say, it’s the one thing of worth I retain.

Bringing all my training and expertise to bear, I consult my own customised appendix. I calculate precisely in terms of applied pressure, longevity and dermal disfiguration. I calibrate as finely as the pharmacist does on his electronic weighing scales. Or are they digital these days ? Anyway, not to put too fine a point on it, I wilfully contuse. The tissue beneath their skin is chastised, by the wrinkling performed at the tip of my devious needle. Ah, there she blows ! As she resurfaces for air, the aggrieved dermis churns in her wake. An oil slick that cannot be battened down. The polluting bruise spreads its meshwork. I determine its continental drift. Some people like to imagine the outlines of countries or beasts in the clouds. Well I etch teratology in sinewy silhouette. I know how to circumnavigate the muscles and skin, the tissue and the weft, in order to delineate fault lines. I make the tools of my trade implement my correction. Surpassing even the tattooists. Their ink penetrates more cutaneous layers, but mine is more indelible.

While the Docs sow you back together and re-confer you bodily integrity, I unpick a couple of vessels just below the surface. The odd frayed seam here or there, just gets disordered a tad. I have become more than an orderly of pain. I have become a philosopher of hurt. My violence is minuscule, but it is four times as powerful as your transgression, since it is so unforeseeable. So far removed from the comfortable, complacent, conventional archetype. I will prick whichever your particular bubble-headed vision of me. Your original sin rebuffs any angelic aspect, as I burst menacingly from my pre-packaged imago. Do you still feel any ill-judged pangs now, as you contemplate my uniform ? Have you ever seen a less beatific angel ? Would a matronly mother inflict such suffering on you ? Do you see me rush afterwards, to lovingly caress the scarification ? Of course you don’t. I am the perfunctory, antiseptic bandage, not any perfumed balm. No you fool, it is not the discolouration of iodine glazed on the wound, it is the purple disfigurement of trauma itself ! For I shall resensitise you to the living. Pain is a dead end. You will not persist in causing it in others. You can only discharge it through your own corporeal self.

What lies beneath your skin ? I will fashion you a lancet window to look down into the black heart beneath. I will turn your embrasures inside out, so your envenomed arrows rebound on you. Your peccancy will be picked out in your very fibre. Engraved in large, black relief on your rind. Written in limpid prose. You will only have to glance at the crook of your arm, or the motorway pileup that is the dorsal venous arch on the back of your hand, to be reminded of your immorality. And for the clear lines of demarcation to be re-established. The seemly formalities to be reimposed. Between the sick and the healthy. The impaired and the unimpaired. Of reason. Ink blotted copybook results for all to see. A matter of public record.

You will return home healed by the doctors, disinfected by me. You remark to all and sundry, upon the expertise of the life-giving surgeons, even though you were unconscious at the time. Then a mealy-mouthed pause, deliberating on whether to lambast the shoddy nurse who couldn’t take blood or administer an injection properly. You stare not at the elective scar the supreme surgical handiwork has left, demurely contained behind white lint. Instead you cannot tear your eyes from the livid contusion that seems to be stamped upon your very flesh. And you keep shaking your head as to whether that nurse, that I a professional carer, could have cold bloodedly intended this.

Or, whether perhaps you were after all, to blame in some way. That you invited it to a large degree. Not because you jerked your arm at the salient moment of the hypo’s penetration, but because ... Because ...? No, you carry on the rehabilitation work. Don’t overlook changing the dressing and keeping the wound clean. You have no evidence. My expression was entirely neutral. The unbounded fear of your incomprehension, buffers and bounces memory. All you have are the consequences. Even now, your arm is sending out millions of SOS calls to your overcooked brain, pleading for relief from its own eyesore. A causal chain. But it’s getting short shrift. You’ve got to go beyond that. To confront your own gall.

The throb has long since ceased, but the visual prompt unerringly flushes you. A phantom pain, you won’t ever decoct. A referred ache in your head, far removed from the blighted skin. Jolting you directly back to the deep-lying ground zero. The pain that pilots you. The indicator on your flesh which ushers you. Pain might not be an emotion, but it informs emotion. Enhances and exacerbates it. Tears the wool from your eyes. It’s an excellent browbeater, bringing you to attention. It’s insistence drags you from out of your numbness. And that’s what I require. I don’t want you to continue to inhabit the palsied realm of unfeeling. The realm from which you first assaulted me. Those brute, animal sensations you blithely wrought upon me. Now is occasion to discover their true implication. I refer you back in kind, how that meaning is magnified as it fans out over your bruised gist. Can you read the runes of your own body as I have just inscribed them ?

The prickling might have receded, but the psyche still has to evaluate the lasting extent of the damage. The fallout imprinted on the arm. That gnawing feeling which just won’t dissipate. Concentrate, stare at it hard. Focus on it as towards a mantra. Apply yourself obsessively to its inroad, in order to allow enlightenment to enter. The enormity of my inversion, should empty your head sufficiently of everything you hold to be true. Regress you to that childlike state of searing epiphany, that putting your hand in the fire burns, a lesson never to be repeated.

As you raise your arm or hand and catch sight of it, a further measure of your operable animus seeps out from the inky, black pool. Some of your pus is drained by each airborne action. Each shadow memory of that arm or hand being raised against another person. Then and only then will the chastened flesh regain its former hue. Overlaying the blackened cuticle and consigning it to the toxic wilderness. To be purged as dust parings. I am after a complete, cell by cell, internal unstitching of you. I leave it to your solemn, meditative convalescence to put yourself back together again.

In rare cases, it does dawn on them, then and there at the sharp end. That my act is purposeful. And the look of shock in their eyes. The look I must have had that first time as their victim, but which very soon I reclaimed for myself. The nerve of it ! The sheer bloody nerve. Ah indeed ! There lies the rub. For I have decorticated myself all the way to the exposed nerves and looked deep inside. I am entirely familiar with all there is to know about me. And I believe they espy this self-assurance in the countenance that confronts them. So they never develop beyond shock into full blown imprecation. To date, nobody has ever ventured a complaint, since they know what lies behind. I don’t know if word has got round, or is somehow transmitted within the fabric of these wards, but since my culling programme, I’ve had a fall off in incidents of being manhandled. It could always be attributed to me just getting older and less appealing, even to the depraved I suppose. But I don’t think so, do you ?

from the novel available on Amazon kindle

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