The Colombia Chronicles – Man Down

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It’s been a while since I’ve written, and this post will be a bit different to those that have preceded it. Rather than just haphazardly linking all of my experiences over a 3 month period, this should actually show a clear theme –  that of the horrors of being injured abroad; in a land where you don’t speak the correct language, your parents are nowhere to be seen, and cups of tea arrive with perilous scarcity. A lot has happened to me since I last shared anything on here (including two new jobs), but it’s best to save that until next time. Let’s view this update as a standalone episode, the proverbial Bandersnatch.

The precursor to such a trauma is painfully obvious. By this I mean that I feel awkward whenever I mention that I got quite pissed prior to somebody driving into my head. It was my boss (and fellow Romford geezer) Mike’s last shift at the company that I was working for. As Head of Client Services, Mike was a totem of responsibility. It made perfect sense that four of us would commemorate his stewardship by having reggaeton mantra ‘Perreo hard’  tattooed on ourselves. This is probably the equivalent of having ‘slut drop’ inked on your sleeve –nothing could make less sense to a quartet of gringos.

I don’t know how I avoided the tattoo. But I woke up neither with one of those, nor a particularly well-functioning brain. This part is probably best viewed through an alternative lens (that of my terrified mates), than my own shambolic and uncertain perspective.

The first alarm went when I failed to show up for work, despite spending the entire night with my boss, desk neighbour and mate-of-many-years Dresden (she definitely got the tattoo by the way). This isn’t particularly outrageous amid a big hangover, but my record is pretty blemish-free in that regard (do the crime, do the time etc). Strike 2 may have come when I didn’t respond to any messages within two hours of receiving a curt Slack bollocking. Strike 3 was when it became apparent that I was neither at home, nor that of the mate for whom I was cat-sitting. Strike 4 was serious business, and entailed a crack team of mates dropping in on hospitals to see if I’d found myself in need of their services.

Turns out I had, and that was about as much as I knew. I looked a mess, my hairline appearing somewhat…scalped? My face was a little cut, my arm was a total state – the elbow was broken (not that I knew so at the time). To be honest, I am not a reliable narrator to discuss this part of the story. All I know is that I’d missed my pre-work, extra-curricular English lesson (and hence my incentive for the month) and so was fuming. How strangely the brain works at times? Stood there, livid about losing a small incentive for my 2nd job, totally unconcerned by the fact that I’d probably just come quite close to death. They fined me anyway, despite the car accident. What a day.

My mental state was a complete and utter bastard to navigate. Confused and overwhelmed, it was like trying to wander along a short walk you have completed hundreds of times (to your local park for instance), except, each time, you’d encounter an alleyway you’d never seen before. Or perhaps the friend’s house you’d usually knock at en route no longer existed. The point is, nothing was routine anymore. And no matter how many friends I threatened to abandon mid-conversation (‘I think I’ll just get an Uber home actually’), the point was simple; despite them being very present, I was completely alone in this battle.

A side effect of this is that you act like a complete pig. At least I hope that that’s the case, and I have an excuse for doing so. I found myself repeatedly displaying tendencies I abhorred. Self-obsession  and conceit have always bored me, and I would typically prefer to hear about other people’s lives than my own. And yet conversations were just so hard that I had no choice but to focus on myself. I was the classic shit dinner guest,asking no questions and just unpacking my own nonsense. To be fair, it felt like there was more at stake than most conversations, as I attempted to organize my thoughts into something resembling coherence.

In perhaps one of the most British things that has ever happened, my mates were put in touch with a UK diplomat named Rupert. A friend of a friend had known Rupert, and apparently, he was the perfect character for this extremely specific circumstance in which I found myself. I still don’t REALLY know what he did, but by golly did he talk a good game, and he was a supportive man – something which I really craved during such a season of crashing uncertainty. He seemed to know things that ordinary people wouldn’t, and I always have time for that.

I think the best thing that he did was send me a really terrible picture of myself that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. In it, it barely seems possible that the photo’s protagonist could remain a living human. My eyes are closed, tape is liberally applied to my face, and the ‘Inglorious Basterd’ scalp chop looks more prominent than ever. When I look at it, it’s genuinely remarkable to me that I haven’t ended up bald or dead.

For a few days I attempted to rediscover my personality amidst a sea of pain and discomfort. It was like watching a movie where you’re completely bored and uninspired by the main character, but there’s just no one else to root for. From the second I was injured, my friends created a Whatsapp group where they ensured I’d never be left alone; I’d always have somebody to keep me company. This was remarkable dedication, from many people that I’d known for a very short time – and very useful considering my bad Spanish and inevitably lengthy hospital stay.

My neighbour in my hospital room was an older gent with what looked like a skin disease. He was always flanked by a younger lady that I presumed was his daughter, but turned out not to be. Daily, he would undergo an hour of what felt like prayer, whereby he’d murmur (almost in tongues) to himself while seemingly going through extreme and intense pain. It was tough to get used to…. but it’s easy for me to say that when you compare my discomfort with his. It felt like this man should be at Lourdes, not in a room with a young lad with no real worries. He should have been indulging in philosophical conversations about his impending death, not listening to me complain about my sore elbow.

It was a huge relief to discover that I would be on full pay (from my main job) for the duration of my recovery. This wasn’t because I wanted to string anybody along, but because I could sense that It was going to take a while before I felt sharp again. They hadn’t (and still haven’t) put any pressure on me regarding a return date (which seems abnormal), but then forcing somebody to return early to a role where they need to think clearly appears pretty counter-intuitive. I would ideally return sooner rather than later, as long as my body and mind are willing participants.

My teaching role was utterly hopeless. I already alluded to this situation earlier, but basically everything I earned in the first week of the month (teaching) was gobbled up by fines for all the classes I didn’t attend when I was in hospital during the second week of November. This was despite me informing them what had happened. Just take me out of the class guys… I’m in a hospital bed. The universe was kind, however, and granted me a 2018 tax rebate to offset such shittery.

My lack of appetite and love of palatable food meant that I would have one whopping Rappi order every dinner time, and just pick on fruit and bits throughout the day. I don’t think I’m even that fussy. As a barometer, I actually like aeroplane food, and so when I deem something inedible I consider it a qualified disaster. One particular hospital meal did it. A dry-mince monstrosity flanked with a bright-pink pork side salad. From that point onward, they couldn’t be trusted. Chef Burger it was, with all the Sailor Jerry glazed goodness and a distinct lack of anguish.

One interesting thing that I can sort of remember is that there was a spell when I kept pissing myself. Now, hear me out. I will need to verify this, but I’m pretty sure I was given trousers WHICH I HAD TO PAY FOR and encouraged to piss in them. I don’t really know where to start with this, but it’s definitely something I remember. God knows what was wrong with the toilet

NB upon further research, it appears I was too much of a flight risk to be considered a legitimate toilet-goer. I was basically pissing myself because they couldn’t trust me to sit in a cubicle without banging my already-traumatized noggin. Something still doesn’t add up here…… have I been Punk’d?

The next big aspect of the recovery was my operation. This was scary, as I knew that they’d be messing with my broken arm. After almost a week of healing, it felt like it would probably hurt a lot. There was a plate to be fixed and some severe mechanical hoo-haa to contend with around my elbow. And yet, the main issue should have been obvious – I had no idea what they intended to do with me.

As a game, I’d like you to try something. Please imagine every surgery you’ve ever been involved in. Now, imagine if you approached that surgery a. having no idea what your surgeon intended to accomplish, b. Speaking a completely different language to everybody involved and c. feeling a little bit nuts from around a week of heavy sedatives and intense biblical dream seances.

It was one of the worst things I’ve ever been involved in. I should have been more aware what I was getting into, and that’s a lesson well learned. I‘ve never felt so hopelessly alone as I did on that gurney. As sensation flitted to and from my forearms, it finally hit home. I had no idea what I was supposed to feel. Were my arms meant to be this numb? Or was that something I should be worried about? Had I actually been sedated, or was it just a local anaesthetic? Why didn’t I know this? What the fuck was happening? Please may I have some more pain relief? Jesus.

From now on I assure you that I’ll enter every operation equipped with a minute by minute itinerary of what to expect. What this approach may lack in excitement, it will surely make up for in comfort. There were often periods where I’d turn around to speak to the porter in charge of me, only to find that he’d wandered off and I was alone for an hour, sat in agony in a corridor. I think that never knowing what was coming next was the worst part, to the point that until I met Conor at the end of the corridor, I had no idea that they were finished with me. I almost wept with relief, and Conor could sense my ordeal.

Obviously, the operation element of my recovery had gone badly. This continued for a day or so as I went home to recuperate from the sleep I’d been deprived of and the severe mental anguish I’d been unfortunate enough to endure. Thankfully, I had a big bag of painkillers and a serious sleep debt. You can probably imagine how that 24 hrs went.

And once I had caught up, things began to feel amazing, There is something so humbling about the point at which you start to enjoy your own company again; whether that’s reading a book, writing your thoughts down or catching up on two weeks’ worth of Match of the Day. My mates were still seeing to me every day, making sure I had nothing else to think about beyond my recovery. They are better than I deserve and I really hope that I can repay the favour one day (not that I am wishing illness upon them).

I still look quite weird. My hair is a disaster. There’s a fair few scalp flakes knocking around (which is always a struggle) and I seem to have some stitches on my face that I really have no idea about. I’ve stopped pissing myself though! Onwards and upwards, gang,

PS. Shout out to Gemma, who drew the short straw and has had to apply an injection in my arsecheek for the last three days. She also knocked out a terrific veggie lasagne #polymath

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