The lights stung my eyes as they flittered awake to the clinical glare of fluorescent brilliance. The white walls, blinds, and polished-steel runners on the bed screens gleamed a million dollar smile back at me when my eyes had adjusted to the splendour. The sound of the heart rate monitor ran a steady patter of my pulse; the diagnostics were soothing and reassuring as the 2 second intervals bleeped me back to health. This was my third stint in the John Deer Hospital in 6 months; it was the best that money could buy. In my line of work it was good to have quality health insurance, especially if somebody else was paying for it.
The door frame rattled as a man in a white coat entered the room. A thin man with lank hair and glasses that were all the rage in 1983 approached me. It was Dr. Chang. Grayson Chang had the appearance of a man that had lucked out in life before he’d hit 30. Beneath the veneer of the white coat was the shell of a man who had started out in life with high hopes and a mission to save the world. He now held the look of somebody that had held the hope and belief of mankind in his hands and watched it stolen from him at gunpoint. Dead or alive. A face full of buckshot in exchange for a man’s dreams was no fair trade at all.
Dr. Chang forced a smile as he looked at my charts and spoke in clinical terms about the progress I had made over the last few days. His hand trembled as he put the chart back onto the rail on the end of my bed; I watched a bead of sweat roll down his forehead. It wasn’t the first time I’d witnessed that.
“Barney will get you ready for your session after breakfast.” I nodded after taking a sip of water from a plastic beaker.
I ate eggs over easy and a piece of dry-wheat toast and sipped water from the plastic beaker to wash it down. Suddenly, the door opened and a gargantuan silhouette towered in the entrance. His size and physique consumed the light, burying it deep inside himself. It was Barney.
Barney was a brute of a man to look at. Standing at 6’6” and weighing 300 lbs. with hands 3 times the size of a wood carver’s mallet, he cut quite an imposing figure. If you could mass produce Barney you could sell fear incarnate and at the same time make the world an infinitely terrifying place to live in. If Phobos, the Greek god of fear, went toe-to-toe with Barney, I guarantee you that Barney would still be the one standing at the end of it. As it happened, Barney was as nice as pie to talk to: a mild mannered and gentle soul with an interest in Bonsai trees and Pavarotti. But don’t be fooled, Barney wasn’t gifted with a face of fear for no good reason. He had his moments when he lost it, and when he did his rage could relegate Mount Vesuvius to the amateur ranks of eruption.
With little effort Barney lifted me off the bed and put me in the wheelchair and wheeled me down the hallway. Like my room, everything was pristine and the sun warmed my face as the light bounced off the gleaming white walls. As Barney whistled Nessun Dorma along the way it made me think of what it might be like being bused into heaven.
We stopped as we reached the double doors of a room that read “Physiotherapy.” I’d been here plenty of times before. The room was full of state-of-the-art equipment and a wealth of apparatus that could make an Olympic athlete out of the average gym rat. The clock read 10.01. I knew the first two hours would be intense, but I knew I had to give it my all if I was to get back to full fitness as soon as possible; there was a lot riding on me. I worked hard. I gave blood, sweat and tears to the morning session. Barney was there all the way and used his own methods of motivation to make me whole again. If Barney was the architect of my pain, the gym was the Sistine Chapel of rehabilitation centres. After lunch we hit the gym again. The afternoon sessions were tough, but never as bad as the mornings.
After my evening meal of high protein, lean meat and vegetables, I rested-up and thought about the forthcoming months of work ahead of me. I knew it would be tough, but I knew I could do it. When I reached my third stay I understood what was expected of me and how it would pan out for the forthcoming months. I looked at the calendar on the wall: large boxed numbers segmented the month of May into 31 little squares, each number isolated and divided. I got up off the bed and winced at the pain in my legs and feet as I stood up and began to walk towards the calendar. I held the bedding tightly as I steadied myself. The pain was excruciating without the crutches or a walker, but I paced myself and for every step I took I sweated out a pint, and for every pint I sweated I took the pain. My hospital gown was soaked by the time I reached the wall. I took the pen dangling from the string attached to the calendar and with my trembling right hand I marked an X as big as it would fit and crossed off the 1st of May. 30 more to go.
Every day me and Barney would follow suit with the same routine: Breakfast. Gym. Lunch. Gym. Dinner. Rest. Every step of the way Barney was there for me. Our friendship had started the same way that it had after my second stay at John Deer. At the beginning I was wary of him. But as the routine slotted into place we began to chat and open up a bit more with each other. Barney became mentor, trainer, coach, and friend all rolled into one. As I said, he was a son of a bitch to work with.He was the bully to the classroom swot. Mickey Goldmill to my Rocky Balboa, but without the jokes. In the evenings Barney would swing by and chat about my progress. For such a brute, he had a philosophical and compassionate nature; where Dr. Chang didn’t have the words, Barney gave me the reassurance of a friend that I’d be back to where I was in no time.
As the days rolled into weeks, I got my strength back. I became as strong as an ox. The daily exchanges with Dr. Chang and Barney were symptomatic of our routine situation. One day, Dr. Chang entered my room and found me doing a relentless set of alternating Spiderman push-ups. I caught a look at his face and for a moment that deadpan expression of woe was replaced by the slightest hint of optimism. When I jumped to my feet, the familiar contortions of his troubled face found their way back home again.
This time Dr. Chang didn’t bother checking my charts. Instead, his only words were: “You’re leaving tomorrow. Good luck.” He lowered his head and briefly looked back at me before walking out of the room.
That evening I faced the calendar and marked off the last day in August. I ripped the page of August from the rest of the sheets and crushed it into a ball. I unpinned the calendar from the wall and threw it in the waste bin. I walked to the window and looked at the sun setting, just minutes before the equinox dropped the curtain on the second act of the day. I knew that tomorrow I’d be out of John Deer and seeing my family again. I couldn’t wait to see them after all that I’d been through. After all, the future is all about them.
Early morning. September 1st. I got up, ate breakfast and packed my things. I said good-bye to the room—I was sure that I would be seeing John Deer again someday. Barney walked with me down the hallway; the walls didn’t seem to shine as they usually did—it didn’t matter anyhow. We saw Dr. Chang on the way out; he could barely look at me when we passed him, but I think I at least recognised the tears in his eyes. I nodded to him and left John Deer in the month of September, 4 months after I entered.
Outside, a car with darkened windows was waiting for me. A door opened and I got in the back. There was a screen between the driver and backseat—I couldn’t tell who was driving me; it didn’t matter anyway. After cutting through the denseness of the city we made our way through the leafy part of town and into the countryside. I felt indifferent to the sunshine after months of shiny white walls. At best it was pretty. Eventually we pulled up to a huge mansion—I was home.
The drive to the front was very much like John Deer, all gravel paths and well-maintained trees. When we arrived at the entrance I walked through the main doors escorted by the driver—I’d never seen him before. As I walked into the main living room I could hear the sound of Casandra’s voice and the kids. I smiled as I dropped my bag and ran to them.
There upon the wall was a large screen with a live video link connecting me to my family. The VC call had been set up perfectly timed for my arrival. Tears rolled down my cheeks at the joy of seeing them again. We talked for an hour and 10 minutes. Casandra held back the tears, the kids were joyful, but sad to hear that I wouldn’t be able to see them yet. It broke my heart, but just like the pain I’d suffered before, during and after rehab, I knew that I would have to multiply this suffering by infinity to even compare it.
A hand tapped me on the shoulder; it was time to go. I walked out of the room and followed a familiar route to a basement in the depths of the house. I stopped as I reached a cast iron door. A bolt slid from the other side and the door opened. As I entered, the familiar smell of dankness and despair hit me. I was greeted by the sight of bloodied tools, weapons and torture instruments that were all the rage during the Spanish Inquisition. I sat down in a chair that resembled the first electric chair to be put to use back in 1890—the entire thing was made of jagged metal: old sparky gave his guests the royal treatment. I took off my jacket and tried to make myself comfortable. I knew what was in store for me. Just like my stays in John Deer, my time here went hand in hand. I was calm and resigned to be here. My first time I was terrified witless. The second time was my coming of age, the hardening of me. Now, I knew what to expect. I would suffer at the hands of another man for weeks, if not months, while my newly acquired physique was dismantled and broken down into pulp.
Why am I here, you ask? Let’s just say that a long time ago, I did some bad things to a very bad man. I’ll spare you the details and just say that most bad men would be happy to settle it by putting a bullet between my eyes and have it done with; my guy was not that kind of man. My indiscretion was dealt with by way of a long and methodically thought out manifesto of pain and suffering. For it to work we hit upon an agreement that I had no leverage in. The agreement kept me alive – not so good. But more importantly, it kept my family alive and out of harm’s way. Any deviation from that arrangement meant crossing a line of things that this very bad man is capable of.
As a little added bonus thrown in for good measure, the quicker I healed up, the longer I could spend with my family—I got an extra 10 minutes this time around. And then there was the get-out-of-jail card, which implied that one day I might go free, but at a price that probably outweighed my ability to leave in one piece. On my down days it gave me glimmer of hope. After the first time here I understood just what crossing that line could mean. It was genius—any deviation from the arrangement meant my worst fears come true. I was resigned to it.
I took the pain and the suffering. I even learnt how to smile through part of it. John Deer was quality health care, the best that money could buy to ensure that you lived a long and healthy life. Dr. Chang knew the score, so did Barney.
The door opened and Barney stood there. He entered and told me it was time to resume our earlier conversation from the hospital. At the end of it, Barney walked to the calendar on the wall. 1st September. 30 symmetrical squares were mapped on a plain page of paper. He took a pen dangling from a piece of string from the calendar and put a big X next to the 1st of September. Only another 29 to go . . . but then a month can be a long time, depending on the company you keep.
Martin Richard Goolsarran was born in London, England and has lived there for most of his life. He comes from an Anglo-Guyanese background. He has done many jobs in his life, ranging from health food store manager to post room assistant, and has been working in the publishing industry for over the last 10 years. His interests are writing, film and martial arts. He is also currently the singer (questionably) and bass player in a work-based covers band.
Image courtesy of Pixabay, altered by Cartoonize.
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