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The Ride


Above him, strips of light rush past: beneath, the onrush of the gurney wheels, rhythms in counterpoint, treble and bass.  Their song teases his memory –what is it?  He cannot think.   He cannot remember.  ‘It means nothing to me…’

Concerned faces look down upon him as they steer his progress, watching his face, clinical figures in clinical scrubs – clinical concern.  So many times now he has taken this desperate ride, each time with that vague, intangible strand to reach for:  but there is no strand this time – this, he knows, must be the last.

He clasps his hideously bloated abdomen and he knows.   He feels that great alien presence inside him that has grown relentlessly through months of burgeoning agony, consuming him, and he knows.  All the therapies, all the treatments; all done.  His destiny lies at this journey’s end.  ‘It means nothing to me…’

In a momentary remission and before the next wave of pain’s powerful fist clamps down on him, his arms flail wildly.   “Mr. Carmody?”

“I’m here,  Michael.”   The consultant stoops over him, his gentle hand touching,  an oasis of calm in the hot sands of his terror.   “Be of good heart, Michael.  It is soon over now, you know.”

“I know.”

The pain has lost him for a time.  He wonders, ludicrously, if the pace of the gurney was too fast for it?  Could it have been left behind?  Maybe it is somewhere back there, writhing in impotent fury upon the tiled floor, lashing out at all who pass?  But no; it finds him.  It creeps in, uncertain.  It probes.  It seizes.

Oh no! Oh no!  Oh please, please God!   Worse this time – worst this time.  This must, must, must be over, please!   Let me go?  ‘It means nothing to me; nothing to me, nothing…’

“We can manage your pain.”  Carmody had assured him in those first days.  “Things have improved so much, Michael.  You needn’t be afraid.”

He had hope then.  Oh, the hope he had then!  But he was still very afraid.

“We’re going to do everything we can.”

“Is there any possibility…?”

“Well, we have come close to a solution many times…”

The gurney has turned a corner.  Doors opening, closing; floating figures in gowns, new and different lights.   Operating Theatre One.

“Right, people!  Places, everyone!”  His consultant’s authoritative voice.

Pain coming again; a tsunami this time of massive, unstoppable proportions.  The needle he so needs thrusts home, imparting a little numbness, a moment of comparative peace, helping him, finally, to remember:   ‘This means nothing to me….Vienna’.

Carmody’s words murmur in his ear:

“Alright, Michael, this is our time.  Let’s make history together.   Push!”


© Frederick Anderson 2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.





When I was young, and smoking was almost a rite of passage, I smoked.

I smoked twenty, or more, cigarettes a day.

I do not particularly remember smoking.  I can’t testify to the joys it brought, or the benefits I experienced from it.  I just don’t recall how it felt.

But I can remember giving up.

I can remember the sleepless nights, the torturous paranoia, the deep frustration.  And I know that if that reckless car drive I performed at one stage in the process had ended with a stay in hospital, I would not have been an easy or a responsive patient; which is why I find the ‘Ash’ rats’ latest target, the complete banning of cigarettes in hospitals, a little tasteless even for them.

Put simply, a hospital has no place in the enforcement of a smoking ban.  

   I can tell you from experience that the stress of enforced withdrawal is certainly not something that sits easily with worry or fear of illness.

Quite apart from the inevitable dangers presented by patients driven to ‘secret smoking’ or insisting upon discharging themselves prematurely, how do you placate the dying patient whose last request is for a cigarette?  Try to persuade them it would be bad for their health?

Personally, if I have a fortnight to live I would rather not spend it giving up smoking. 

The problem for us all is that we are too easily persuaded, too ready to be led. 

Smokers, I’ve found, no longer mind being corralled into stockades exposed to the east wind, or reviled openly on the streets.  They are imbued with a sense of guilt bestowed upon them by the righteous, a garment they wear reluctantly, but resignedly.  This is not enough, however, to satisfy the quite different cravings of those zealot attack-dogs who can only gain satisfaction by bending the will of others.  The issue it seems to me is our growing acceptance of their pernicious addiction in every corner of our daily lives.

Beware the growth of cause at the expense of reason.   Quite simple issues can cause complications if they are not thought through.  Just as bombing does not win wars, banning does not cure habits.  Addiction is as much psychological as medical.  You can’t stop it by hitting it with a bludgeon.  Look up the contemporary literature surrounding the prohibition, or, more topically, that which denies the continuing success of trade in hard drugs.  Did somebody tell me the other day that Afghanistan’s opium harvest this year was its biggest ever?  You see, I don’t keep records; I just try to let good sense be my guide.

And good sense tells me that banning vulnerable people from smoking in a circumstance where they have no choice but to comply is not just pure and simple bullying, it is a travesty of reason and a breach of a human right.

 Let me emphasise:  I do not smoke.   I have not done so for thirty years.  I do not defend smoking.  But I defend absolutely, as long as it is legal, the individual’s right to smoke if they wish.   


An Exercise in Patients

ImageHe bestrides the plastic chairs like a colossus, sinking upon them with the dire decision of a Hoffmann Press; and yes, as the thin foam cushions wheeze in protest, it is entirely possible some steam does rise.  Bestowing an avuncular smile upon the sad woman in the wheelchair, he begins a genial conversation in a voice expelled from his chest with the gusto of an organ’s tenor pipe.  His t-shirt and his shell-pants don’t quite meet.

The sad woman does not really want to talk, for she is old and her years drape from her like the folds and furls of a badly-fitting conscience.  She hates her visibility, the statement she makes:  ‘I am ancient and disabled – only pain could bring me to this’.   Her eyes betray no direction the room can see, but at home upon her favourite window-seat a book lies waiting, neatly marked at her place.  Her eyes have never left it.  She wants, she so badly needs, to finish her book.

“It’s paint, you see.  It’s stuck.”  Explains a man with a red eye to a little woman who dutifully listens, while secretly wondering how she came to be drawn into conversation.  “They don’t know what it is.  It should have cleared by now, but it hasn’t.”  He squints to offer further justification:  a finger begins to rise threateningly towards his lower eyelid and the woman draws back, alarmed.

She smiles politely.   There is nothing wrong with her, she says apologetically – she is here with her husband.  “They’re seeing him now.”

A policeman, mighty in protective black, rattles around the corner.  He scans his assembled audience with his best ‘Any terrorists?’ glance, then jingles from sight for a moment to reappear, accompanied this time by a fellow rattler who has a miscreant on his wrist.  They sit, the three of them.

There is nothing remarkable about the miscreant apart from his manacled attachment to the fat jingling man.   He is very white – white singlet vest, white trousers, white trainers, white flesh.  He is also very under-weight, unfortunate in a man who has decided to tell his life in pictures, for the tattoos that adorn him have shrunk to a point where they are indecipherable.  Only one, a voluptuous and very naked female on his arm, remains regrettably explicit; though disfigured by diet.  Clearly Mr. White has woken this morning and donned his ‘ready to be arrested’ look; and he seems to bear no ill-will towards his captors, with whom he jokes freely. 

A chariot-race for the lavatory ends badly.  The polite ‘After you’ duologue does little to diffuse the grinding of metal or the subsequent mutterings of the elderly loser.  The name of the man lying across five chairs is called.

“Mr. Odergrass?”

He has been sleeping, or in some way dormant there for as long as anyone canImage remember.  Few seem to have noticed him.  His rising, difficult and undignified as it is, causes raised eyebrows from those of us who nearly sat on him, apparently.  He limps painfully to his destiny with a look of accusation at the woman talking to the red-eyed man about dogs.  Maybe she did sit on him?

Oscar Wilde enters.   Tall and regal of bearing with the arrogance of the artist in his stride he uses a rolled umbrella as a walking cane.  He is also wearing a long overcoat.  It is thirty degrees outside.  He glares around him at the seating arrangements, tutting disapprovingly, then stalks to a chair free of immediate neighbours, where he imitates the actions of Mr. Odergrass.  He smells of alcohol.  He snores sonorously.

The waiting room – an hour gladly spent for the new characters I found there, though I would have wished for other than a hospital accident and emergency department, maybe.  There is so much to be gained in watching the actions and interactions of people forced into proximity by time and circumstance it is no wonder so many great writers have weakened.  A simple set with volumes of space for reflection. A thousand unwritten plots.