Wednesday, 23 June 2010 ash on my tongue

I am depressed.
I cannot pretend otherwise.
I have just spent the last 5 days in bed,looking at the ceiling and thinking about my life...and TMBGITW who I miss so much it feels like my trachea has been pulled out of my chest...I gasp for breath at the thought of never seeing her again.

. *sigh*
And so for the last 5 weeks generally,and the past 5 days in particular,I feel like I have been falling through some black hole of physical pain and utter despair and overwhelming hopelessness...
...and my friends and colleagues and arbitrary acquaintances have all said the most stupid,asinine and generally unhelpful things to me...from... 'There are plenty of fish in the sea' favourite (not) 'The quickest way to get over a woman is to get get another one under you!'

All I really want is for someone to say...very simply..."I'm sorry"....that's all..."I'm sorry"...and perhaps to buy me a cup of coffee or cook me a meal or lend me a funny dvd...send me some flowers even.

And because I'm depressed and contemplative I have of course been thinking about death...and all of the patients who died around truth...there are some patients I think of daily...and ,-atheist that I am-,still say a prayer for...

No matter how many lives you many people you save...for me...its always been about those I've lost...or could not help

And naturally I've thought about the lies and platitudes I've told to relatives..."he didn't feel any pain"..."it was a quick death"..."he didn't suffer"..."we did everything we could do"

There was a time in the late 1980's and early 1990's just after I had written a book about children and death,that I became the corpse whisperer at the Jo'burg Gen...the person who was asked to break bad news

It was always after hours when I would be asked to take a family down to the mortuary so that they could identify or pay their respects to their loved one...

The Porter and I would peel back the brittle plastic shroud ,bracing ourselves against the smell of hot liver that permeates even the coldest corpse...and try to make the person look 'normal'...but the corpse always looked scared or frightened or in pain or simply, surprised.

No one who dies a violent or unexpected death ever looks normal or peaceful.
That only comes later thanks to the artistry of the undertaker.

Occasionally their eyes would be frozen open and you felt their unforgiving stare...that you were alive and they were not you tried to wipe the crystalline jewels of frozen blood from their face...or that their family could kiss them goodbye.

There are 3 patients I have never forgotten.

The first was a suicide call.In the early 1980's I was working for the Ambulance Division of the Johannesburg Fire Department and we were standing-by at the Jo'burg Gen one warm summer evening at about 18h30,when we got a call to a block of flats about 2 minutes away...2 minutes with lights-and-sirens.

When we got to the scene a policeman told us that a woman had been seen to fall from a fifth floor window...and had landed on the roof of the adjoining ground-floor parking she had fallen 4 floors.

The inevitable Zulu night-watchman showed us how to get to the roof.

A beautiful blond woman in her 20's was lying face down on the roof.She was wearing a pretty cotton nightdress and matching dressing gown.She was very much dead.

Some bystanders pointed to the flat they thought she had jumped or perhaps fallen from and 5 minutes later I was knocking on the door accompanied by a cop.

Another beautiful blond woman in her 20's opened the door,drying her hands on a tea towel.A blue tea towel.

"Hello...I'm Lucien...I'm a nurse with the Fire Department...this is Sgt. vd Merwe with Hillbrow Police...sorry to trouble you...but does anyone live here with you?"

She looked at me like I was crazy...clearly I was a fireman,dressed in all the correct gear...clearly my colleague was a cop

Only my sister...shes been in Tara (psychiatric) hospital for a few weeks...I picked her up today...shes in the bathroom brushing her teeth....we've just had some dinner...Why? Whats wrong?

"Are you sure she is in the bathroom? Could I please just check?"

Why? Whats wrong?

"Please ...just let us in for a few minutes...come with me to the bathroom..."

The bathroom was empty...the window wide open...and her sister was 4 floors below covered in a red wool JFD blanket.

The second patient was also a suicide,called in as a heart attack
A Friday lunchtime call.

This older man had just gone through a divorce;lost his house; and become unemployed and was staying with his sister and brother-in-law.

He was a physically small man...he had perhaps the build and weight of a jockey.
His sister had gone out to do the shopping....this being in the days before 24/7 shopping...

...and so this man had a last cup of coffee and smoked a last pipe...

Then he hammered a screwdriver into the top of a sturdy door,attached a thin leather noose to the cord and jumped off of a chair.

His toes were probably only an inch or two from the ground...but it was enough.

The third patient was a child of about 8 years old,brought into the Children's Casualty one winters night at about 23h00.He was a nameless and unknown 'street kid'...and had been huddled over an open fire in a steel drum when some sick bastard ran up and sprayed him and some other children and the drum with petrol.He got the brunt of the attack.

He had over 90% burns really...and he screamed a lot.
A lot really.

The anaesthetist managed to get a line in his scalp..and he was given some morphine...and I sat and held what had been his hand until he died.

His body was never claimed and I think he was buried as 'unknown black child alpha/date'

So the thing is this...platitudes never work...for the family or for the staff...just say that you're sorry.

I know some readers think I write this blog as entertainment...legally I have to say that...

Actually ...most days...I write it to remind myself that I exist.

Thank you.


  1. So sorry to hear that you are going through a bad time - I have long read and enjoyed your blog but like so many 'voyeurs' we tend not to dwell on on anything more than the superficial. All I can say is that your blog reveals a very interesting, caring and multifaceted individual and I suspect that might be,in part, why you were drawn to someone with problems. But you deserve better and I hope that with a little distance and time you will see that. Perhaps this post will let those who know you see that you also need that support and I hope that they will take that opportunity to give it to you ....
    with sincere best wishes

  2. i am so sorry you are sad: i always read your blog, but dont often comment because i am eating potnoodles and its hard not to spill stuff on the computor while i eat. i suppose you would be able to fly off to Joburg for a quick holiday because all the foot ball fans have booked up the plane. if i was an australian i would invite you to come flying with me on some flying doctor visits just to get your blood flowing again. however i am not but i will remeber you in my prayers tonight when i say the rosary o.k?

  3. well the other day this guy came into a/e he had been an out of hosptial arrest, but no one in the coffee shop started CPR, he was young. but there was no line. everyone wanted to give up but this little SA nurse stuck and intraosseous infusion in the bone below the knee and revived the patient with adrenaline and also by shocking him, desptite the AED saying "do not shock" he said he reckoned the VF was too fine for the VF. this guy trained in joburg: maybe the seeds you sowed over there all those years ago..........didnt go to waste. patients GCS was 15/15 afterwards except he was disorientated.

  4. hinking of an
    > expedition to the airport on Gautrain to OR Tambo and back, just to
    > see what it's like.. (There are so many day trippers doing the same
    > thing, Mary tells me, that last week end it packed up under the
    > strain, so the 10-minute trip turned into hours for some people. so we
    > betta take something to read, hey.)
    > The world cup goes on, I am staggered to realise belatedly that the
    > building and refurbishing of 10 (Ten!) stadiums in various parts of
    > the country was all for only 64 world cup games, can you believe this!
    > It seems so criminally wasteful it leaves one gasping... What about
    > all those schools with no running water or toilets or libraries or
    > textbooks? or teachers? and SA will be out of pocket for about 50
    > billion or more.. Far fewer overseas people are coming than expected,
    > I fear from that point of view it's a damp squib -

  5. What? Hey? I can recall an evil twination operating from the very nourishing mother institution you always so affectionately remember. You may remember the female half: meaty and cruel and the jibes and pranks employed by that duo on the unaware unhappy whose folly led them to that casualty ward without having any physical wounds to purchase their admission. Ahh those memories - what transports? Do you not have any idea who the male member of the team was? That approach still holds and is being applied. Seriously, women will be the ruination of you so get over it now. You owe me more coffee than you can imagine but for funny videos why not watch Maggie Thatcher on YouTube? There was never a time when she wasn't a howl a minute! How about Reagen if you like something more lighthearted. Intrigued yet? It's time for you to write to me.