YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 15. Preamble and Still in Hospital part two, or not all erections are good for you.

Preamble. In last week’s thrilling conclusion many questions were asked, here in the preamble we will discuss the first two. Did Laurie become a little crazy? YES. Depressed actually and you will see why as we go on. Did he succumb to the temptation and become an Aussie Rules follower? Definitely NO never, ever, never will I follow the game. Imagine being in a room with a TV out of reach in the far corner, you have no control over it whatsoever. It plays constantly until late at night, the same stuff over and over again: endless discussions about games, players, their form, their families, their clubs, their club history. Midweek when things were a tad slow they’d cross over to some outer suburban club where they would show elderly women sitting in the bleak Melbourne sunshine while they helped to make club ‘run through banners’ out of toilet paper. Happy children (they didn’t know the torment and conditioning to come) would gleefully kick odd-shaped balls around whenever a camera crew appeared. Old men in dockside pubs, froth covering their trembling top lips would cry into their beer as they recounted the grand Final loss their team had to endure – forty years previously. Let me give you the rundown so you won’t think I’m whingeing for the hell of it. Friday night, coverage of as many teams as possible for the weekend. Saturday, all day, interviews, tips, locker room interviews, announcers hanging on the utterances of tall gangly players, some who couldn’t string two words together normally but would wax poetic about the game. In the afternoon watch the games, same in the evening. The same for Sunday. Monday was dedicated to post mortems of the weekend games and filming players at training for the start of the week. By midweek they would replay grand final games from years previously, it went on, every channel, every day of the week. I believe there were actually some real shows on, however my eyes became glazed over and the brain refused to function, such was the mental trauma on a non-sporting person. This was the equivalent of waterboarding terror suspects. ‘Mister President, no matter what we do I’m afraid they won’t talk.’ – ‘Get Aussie Rules on cable, pipe it in they’ll talk.’

Don’t think of me as a couch potato, well I was kind of a bed potato at this stage. I played a little bit of family cricket, kicked a soccer ball around, swam, judo, boxing. (not in bed) I just couldn’t get my head around this concept of sport as a religion. Sadly, I have to admit something here. I actually turned up at a club back in my home town of Ipswich when I was fifteen to try out for Aussie Rules. The only reason, yes you guessed it – a girl. Am I that predictable? We worked at the Woollen Mills together and she fitted all the criteria needed for a great relationship – she spoke to me.

My parents didn’t like the choice I made, naturally that drew us closer together. Her mum was sort of okay and we would go to the football or basketball with her then sneak away for some sport of our own. I’ll call her Margie, she had hair that shone like a copper penny, freckles, boobs and lips that when she kissed me, felt as if my mouth was being vacuumed. Oh how I loved her. I never knew how long a tongue could be, or how it felt to have someone actually want me, just for me. I gave up the football when, A. They didn’t appreciate me crash tackling at training. B. She realised that snogging (kissing) in her mum’s car was the better sporting option. Or in the subway tunnel at the railway station, or behind the basketball hall or, the list is endless. This happy event came to a very sudden stop one Friday night. I will use the American vernacular here re first base, second base. I had hit a spectacular shot, clean out of the grounds. I always reached first base, second base never posed a problem at all and on this night third base was a short run away. I was literally sliding along to third base when her elder sister walked into the loungeroom.

Some moments are awkward, with your pants around your ankles. Margie couldn’t think of one excuse as to why she was on the carpet sans her Bridget Jones’ bloomers. In the finest tradition of men everywhere my little brain seemed to be doing all the talking. To say it went downhill from there is an understatement. Big sister had fallen pregnant at that age and was rightly thinking of Margie and I stood there wondering how I would get my best mate back into my pants. So ended a beautiful relationship and every time someone tries to talk Aussie Rules I think of Margie and what may have been. (We probably would’ve ended up as teenage parents)

Hospital 2.  Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, at that time was for past and present members of the armed forces. We had everyone from WW1 servicemen to the wounded from Vietnam and people like me injured in the line of duty. Imagine our room, six beds three on each side I was on the left as you came in from the corridor. A Captain, we’ll call him Bob from a CMF Regiment had some ailment he had picked up in New Guinea and he was across from me. Nobody between him and the end bed by the window where Ted lounged. On my side I had Bill, he had been hit by a car and his pelvis was fractured, more about the unfortunate Bill later and nobody in the bed next to him. Bob was a great bloke, a banker I think when he wasn’t part time soldiering and also one of life’s dry comedians. I honestly think the nurses hated him or at least put up with his humour. As many can well imagine hospital really isn’t for sick people, they won’t let you sleep when you want to, then drug you out when they want you too – Crazy. My life went like this, 0500 woken up by the night nurse to receive the first penicillin shot of the day. Ouch, believe me those needles were huge and because of the frequency they had to keep changing butt cheeks. It got to the point where the skin hardened and they had to be driven in. Now they would give it via a drip. All I could wear to keep myself half decent was a bikini bottom that tied up on each side. Most mornings I would be awake waiting for the inevitable. Nurse comes in, paints target on butt with mercurochrome, expertly flicks needle into bulls eye, quick swab and she’s away.

Before I continue with this story I must inform you of the horrific treatment at the hands of the, drum roll – Physiotherapists. It’s been my experience over time that physios of the female persuasion are nearly all stunners. I know I’m sexist, blah, blah but it is true. They are however torturers therapists. Imagine this: young, virile, fit male (me) spending every day in bed, alone. Trumpets blare and the physios arrive, a small squad of University grads who have obviously been in the hallway devising more fiendish ways to torture us leap into the room. This angel in disguise stands by the bed, reads my chart and probably my mind, smiles impishly and declares, ‘Let’s have a look at that muscle will we.’ Every scene from the old Doctor in the House TV series runs through my mind. I lay there unwilling unable to move. Throwing back my sheet she clambers up onto the bed, hitches her uniform skirt up over her bum and straddles my lower abdomen, with her back to me. Sticking her soft, warm hands underneath the top of my plaster she begins massaging the muscle, ‘Now I want you to tense your thigh muscle, (oh God no, please) hold it, (you hold it) release (if you don’t stop I will release it) and keep doing it.’ My brain is swimming in a hormonal soup, I lock my hands onto the steel rails on the bedhead, grit my teeth and think of having my toenails ripped. *Oh the agony.* That worked.

Back to injections, this particular morning Nurse Grumpy *I don’t want to be here* Britches  turns up. Obviously her home/social life is at a low ebb and she’s been taking it out on the staff all through the night. I’d woken up earlier and physio girl sprang to mind, so I dozed off thinking of the endless possibilities. The next thing I knew my sheets were ripped back, a high pitched squeal and, ‘You horrible dirty thing, how dare you do that to me.’ STAB. Muttering and whining I lifted the sheets, ‘Oh, good morning sunshine you’re up early.’ You would really think that a nursing sister had actually seen an erection in a hospital.

Speaking of which Ted’s parents ran a Newsagency and when they visited they always brought unsold magazines and overseas papers with their banners removed. Ted always kept the Playboy, Penthouse and Mayfair magazines to himself, at least until he was tired of them. Bill’s condition required that he have a catheter inserted until his pelvis healed. We felt sorry for Bill, he had a girlfriend who turned up every night and drew the curtains around his bed. I can only imagine they spent the time playing scrabble or tiddlywinks. After she’d gone Bob would give him a hard time and Ted would hold up pinups from one of the magazines. Bill screamed in agony this night, yes he had an erection, which isn’t good with a catheter inserted. He threw his covers back and I must say we were all impressed, it looked like a deep sea diver standing there, with an air hose sticking straight up. We all hit our buzzers for the nurse and she came bolting in, skidding to a stop when she saw Bill, ‘I’m sick of you lot playing games, behave yourself.’ We all yelled, ‘Ice, get him some ice.’ Taking another look she saw that he was actually crying with the pain. Ted had to keep his pictures to himself after that.

It wasn’t all beer and skittles in hospital, it was actually you could have a beer with your evening meal. I couldn’t because of the antibiotics. The only other highlight of the week was Sunday night dinner; we had plum pudding and custard. I like plum pudding; I would walk a mile or two for one, Bob liked them too. Being a hospital people died there, you could always tell when because the lift that came from the morgue down in the basement had a unique clanging sound to it. That and the hurried closing of curtains over windows by staff members as the trolley with the false casket on it rolled past. We had heard through the grapevine that old Mister Hughes, a WW1 veteran was failing fast. I was still bedridden (I wish) so couldn’t yet visit anyone. The Sister went running past and Bob called out, ‘Sister Johnson is Mister Hughes okay?’ – ‘Not now Bob.’ The trolley rumbled back with a Wardsman and Sister Johnson in attendance. “Sister Johnson, Sister Johnson, a minute please?’ She stops and looks in the door, ‘What is it Bob?’ – “Did Mister Hughes die before he ate his dinner?’ – ‘Yes Bob, why?’ – ‘Can I have his plum pudding?’

Last week we were left with the question of did I get any personal visitors? Yes, one the brother of another course member who brought all my personal belongings up one night. It lasted thirty seconds and he was gone, he must have thought he might catch something. Now and then Ted’s Mum would sit by and visit with me, or perhaps one of Bob’s relatives would take pity. Did any of my family visit me? Nope. I know they were in Queensland but even one visit by one of them would have helped. It hurt, they didn’t ring and I received a letter a week. To be honest I felt cheated, lonely and sad. Even the old blokes had visitors, some patients would amble by and nod or say good day. I must thank the nurses for stopping me going crazy. They would spoil me, bring me home cooked food and cake, a bag of second hand books, all the little things that saved my sanity. One made it her task to wash my hair once a week, she would wheel my bed out onto the veranda. Drop the bed head and give me the most delightful scalp massage and shampoo. Remember I had a good head of hair then and one got terribly sweaty and uncomfortable. The question came up, did I find love? No but I found compassion, caring and humanity from a group of remarkable young women who made my life bearable. Did I get better? Well, that’s a subjective question, my fracture healed, the joint settled down and osteoarthritis set in.

Next week: The bliss of plaster changes, they give me a wheelchair and I meet a few soldiers who gave me a new perspective on life and how Shitty it can be, and my new job.

Next week: Still in Hospital part three and my New Job.

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14 thoughts on “YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 15. Preamble and Still in Hospital part two, or not all erections are good for you.

  1. mindlovemisery

    I had to stay in the hospital for a week hooked an EEG hooked to a wall (think cyborg) I wasn’t allowed to shower and I was filmed, I have thick impossible hair so the wires kept coming off and I had to be recyborged regularly which makes for a sore scalp! if I went to the bathroom for more than 1 minute a swarm of nurses jumped into the bathroom in a fit of panic. I was constipated. I was not allowed to sleep because they wanted me to have seizures I nearly went crazy, okay I did go crazy. I sympathize because from the sounds of it you were in the hospital for a long time! I had full control of the television because I was alone in my room. All I did was watch television it wasn’t easy to move about hooked into the wall. You are a masterful story-teller thank you for your encouragement =)

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Not a good run in hospital there. I had damage to my cerebellum from several sources and started taking pseudo seizures back in the early eighties. Spent a couple of days wired up like something out of a three stooges episode. Naturally nothing happened did it? In the army I spent 3 months in there, 2 in bed. Crazy time, so I’m feeling your pain there. Thanks for the compliment
      🙂 and encouragement comes at no cost whatsoever.

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  2. Raani York

    Dear Laurie, It is remarkable how you make these memories sound so funny and “easy” in a way, but I still could imagine that it might be much harder sometimes. (And no: THAT’s not what I meant. LOL)
    You made me smile, you made me laugh – and still towards the end there was this trace of sadness in your writing. I do feel a sensitivity there which proves your good strong heart!
    Sending a hug, Laurie!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Why Raani, thank you so much. people would think twice about coming back to read if it were all doom and gloom. there is always a humorous twist to put on nearly everything. When you find the funny and ridiculous it heals you in a way and stops you from taking yourself too seriously. Hmm, it was MUCH harder sometimes. I was sad in there, I actually hid under my covers and cried once. It felt a little better after that. Visitors are definitely the go for people in hospital, it keeps them connected to the outside world. Hug received and eagerly held, thanks Raani, you’re sweet.
      Laurie.

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  3. Owls and Orchids

    Thanks for the next instalment Laurie, the suspense was killing me 😊. Things could have been worse, I have it on very good authority that a spoon, straight out of the freezer does wonders for a young patients erections! Haven’t tried it myself but I know a few nurses.
    So when do you start praying for a knitting needle to scratch the healing itch?
    Love your writing. Susan ❤

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      I’m just like the Saturday morning Matinee movie show, ‘Come back next week to see if Batman can wangle his way out of this.’ This is the cruel thing though Susan, you lie in bed all day and night while lovely women fuss around you. They smell wonderful, they care, they wash nine tenths of your body. Crikey what do they expect, Monks? Oh the pain. Knitting needles are for wimps, grade 4 fencing wire is the go. You can get it in further. Oh the joy, the ecstasy of the cold spoon. ‘Hit it, hit it again, give it to me you’re not doing it right.’ Arggh! You get the picture. Thanks,
      🙂 Laurie 🙂

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      1. Owls and Orchids

        Laurie, You just got me in real trouble. It’s the wee hours and I’m reading this. The giggles started which I tried ‘manfully’ to muffle.Then he guffaw started which became strangled, then a full on snort of laughter, Lost the ladylike urge to stop then as the tears rolled down my face, Ray jumps up thinking I’m in pain or being attacked. More snorts of laughter. I can barely breath, my hip hurts but its a great way to ‘end’ the day.
        Thanks, you’re a peach…… you know the saying
        Ciao friend, Susan x.

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      2. laurie27wsmith Post author

        I nearly got a young lady in trouble once, now I do it with my writing. Hmm, there’s something wrong there. 🙂 I’m so glad you liked this, I can visualise you rolling and snorking, then ooh my hip, snork. See, laughter is the best medicine. Except if you die laughing that is, umm, better watch out here. I’m a couple of weeks a head on my blogs so I must warn you to lie very still and read them, okay?
        Haven’t been called a peach in ages, thank you Susan for being a friend.
        Cheers
        Laurie.

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  4. Pagadan

    Ack! Laurie, you promise it gets better!! That channel selection (sports) is depressing. I’d probably talk. (And I feel annoyed when I can’t find anything good to watch when I’ve got the time…)

    I look forward to reading about your escape from the hospital, but the background is interesting.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Joy, it’s good to see someone hears my pain. 🙂 That’s right, all the good shows are on when you’re busy. Yes the escape is next week and there’s still plenty of background. It’s good to hear from you.
      Laurie.

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  5. Marta Merajver Kurlat

    Laurie, I’ve read countless books about World Wars I and II. None of them ever gave the sense of proximity your memoir does. I feel it in my body, which never happened before. You have a remarkable way of getting the reader to vicariously experience what you went through. Looking forward to the rest of it!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Marta, thank you so much that is quite an honour. I try to tell it how I felt at the time without letting too much get in the way. I can assure you of a good read when I get to Vietnam, not the glorification of anything but how I felt and what it did to me.
      Laurie

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