A few years ago, a relative of mine slipped on a patch of December ice and broke her hip. This meant we spent large parts of our Christmas holidays that year, visiting in hospital. The melancholy of it all has stayed with me. The ward was covered in forlorn pieces of straggly tinsel and the sound of unfunny, forced Christmas specials of the nation’s favourite sitcoms leaked out of the TV lounge. The tiny chaplaincy was busier than usual and the guest book was filled with messages, some asking for a miracle, some asking for a bit of peace, all asking for a better year to come. So as the bleak midwinter approaches, Pacemaker asks, how is Christmas for unwell people in the community and in hospital?
I spent many days this summer sleeping beside my grandmother, underneath fans and dusty ceilings that shaded us from Calcutta’s tropical heat. I watched her peacefully sleep through what I could only describe as an exhaustion that had insidiously crept into the corners of her life. We spent silent hours in one another’s company, reading; bemused by the parallels in our postures, I found myself wondering where I had inherited my bookworm’s tendencies… the solution appeared to present itself.
I’ve clerked patients, but I wouldn’t know where to begin with my grandmother. She looked so much thinner than the robust woman I had once known. I watched her shuffling away to the bathroom frequently. She said she often felt an urge, but inability, to pass her stools. There was blood in her stool. Whilst piecing these signs together seems simple, we were decidedly interrupted by all that transpires in between – interrupted by quotidian life. She was reluctant to see a medical professional. She was perturbed by her symptoms, but had formed her own means of adjustment.
On November 9th, 2005, a 37 year old man named David Llewellyn walked into Heshworth General hospital in Vancouver Island and sawed off his left leg in the hospital waiting room. It was all over the news. I remember that the Huffington post labelled him as ‘deranged,’ and ‘suffering from a psychotic episode,’ but the reality proved to be a lot more complex than that.
Several eye witnesses reported that Llewellyn walked into the main waiting room of the hospital at approximately 9.05am and sat quietly amongst the other patients. Mr Greg Freying, who had been sitting across from Llewellyn at the time, reported that Llewellyn was quite ‘calm’ and ‘unemotional’ as he casually rolled up the left leg of his trousers and began the self amputation using a wire saw. According to Freying, it took several minutes for hospital staff and surrounding patients to catch on to what was happening, an alarmed mother who had been sitting beside Llewellyn with her two children began to scream and the waiting room erupted in panic. Several members of hospital staff attempted to restrain Llewellyn while the police were called. He was eventually subdued but not before irreversible damage was done to the mutilated leg- which doctors confirmed had been completely healthy and functional before Llewellyn’s actions.