Saturday, September 24, 2011

a grinding

‘Does your son have far to come?’
‘No. He lives just the other side of town. He said he’d be over right away.’
‘That’s good.’
‘He is good. I’m lucky.’
Peter stands in the doorway of his lounge, next to the portrait his son made of him back in the Seventies: a sombre, charcoal and chalk three-quarter length study of a monolithic figure meeting the future in an open neck shirt. It’s a close resemblance; apart from a certain hollowing and softening over time, it’s still the man himself framed in the doorway now, looking straight at us.
‘So. Have you got everything you need, Peter? Did you want to put a jacket on?’
‘No.’
Peter has taken an overdose of paracetamol. We’ve had so many of them lately, it’s like we’re standing in a field trying to hold back a rag-tag militia whose shuffling advance is beaten out on a big white drum marked 500mg.
‘I talked to Simon,’ he says. ‘He’ll meet us there.’

***

The ambulance tips and sways. The bright morning light cuts in through the window blinds and rakes the interior. Peter sits neatly in his seat, making only the smallest, most economical compensations to maintain his balance.
‘I just wanted to sleep,’ he says, resting his eyes on me. ‘I’m tired of all the effort. You know – getting up, eating breakfast…’ he breaks off, faced with a great channel of despair. Then he sighs and links his fingers neatly in his lap. ‘Let’s just say I was tired,’ he says.
‘Are you getting any help?’
‘Everyone’s been more than kind. I couldn’t have had better support. And Simon, he’s wonderful. But really – at the end of the day – what can anyone say? If it’s not working, it’s not working, and with the best will in the world there’s not anything anyone can do about it.’ A band of light scans his face; he closes his eyes and lets it. ‘I’m a disaster area,’ he says, opening his eyes as we suddenly move into the darker zone of an underpass. ‘Everything I touch falls to pieces.’

***

‘We’ll be there in five minutes.’
‘Thank you.’
‘How are you feeling?’
‘I’m fine, thank you.’
He sits quite still and contained, despite the massive dose of paracetamol, the years that led to it, the hours he lay staring up at the ceiling from the early morning to the moment he picked up the phone and called his son – despite all these things, he maintains an impressive air of competence.
‘What line of work were you in before you retired?’ I ask him.
‘I was a diamond cutter,’ he says.
‘Wow,’ I say. ‘I’ve met people from about every other profession I can think of, but you’re my first diamond cutter.’
‘It’s a specialised field.’
‘I bet.’
I remember an article on the news recently about the discovery of a planet on the furthest reaches of the galaxy, a little planet so densely packed with carbon a good part of it must be pure diamond. I hesitate to mention it, for some reason.
‘So. How do you cut a diamond? I suppose you’d have to use another diamond.’
‘Diamonds do cut diamonds,’ he says. Then, after a pause: ‘But of course much of the process would be better described as a grinding.’

10 comments:

Eileen said...

It's not a nice way to die if you are conscious - I watched a woman once over 6 weeks in the ICU getting yellower and yellower. Overdose of paracetamol plus sleeping pills washed down with a bottle of whisky at new year after a row with her bloke. When she came round (how we never knew) she realised she didn't really want to die but it was too late.

Why don't they sell only the version combined with the antidote? So few people realise how dangerous it is.

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

"much of the process would be better described as a grinding.’”

What an apt metaphor.

VM Sehy Photography said...

That last line sums it up nicely. Seems like his days have become a kind of grind.

Getting old is no fun. I hope when I'm older I have a lot of younger friends so someone can miss me when I'm gone. Maybe I'll volunteer or something.

As much as I'd like to think hanging and doing nothing is the way to spend time while waiting for that last breath, I'm pretty sure one is better off to be busy. Keeps time from dragging.

Spence said...

Eileen - A horribly protracted way to go. I don't know why the antidote isn't combined with the drug; when I looked it up I found this article http://www.pharmweb.net/pwmirror/pwy/paracetamol/pharmwebpicf.html which goes some way to explaining it, I suppose.

Lynda - One thing that struck me about Peter was the quiet & moderate tone. It was almost as if he was assessing himself in the same way he might have judged a flawed stone. It was a strangely calm and exacting kind of despair.

VMSP - I think that's a good plan (for any time of life!) I hope I manage to hold on to things - but I'd be terrified that the ol' black dog would outstay it's welcome, esp. if work & family life contracted.

jacksofbuxton said...

Another sad story Spence.Life is indeed a grind,you just hope to uncover little diamonds every day.

Spence said...

Hey JoBs. I think that's a good policy - look for one good thing every day to be truly thankful for.

I know I'm bad at that; when I get low sometimes that idea gets inverted into 'look for evidence every day that life really is as rubbish as you think it is'. Sometimes breaking estabished patterns of thinking is the key.

Nari said...

Even rational intelligent people get tired of life, I guess, but it sure is scary to think about.

Spence said...

It is scary, esp. when you're older and it's more difficult to find the hutzpah to try new things, make new connections, to keep alive to life's potential.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Depression and the varients can be labelled a disease because the chemistry of the brain and the way of looking at thing literally changes. I feel for Peter and the grey world that only he can see, hear and see.

I used to get the paracetemol sent over from Canada where adding an extra 100 pills, or pills with codine is a way to promote the product: get 600 instead of 500 pills. And yet, no one uses them for oversoding (or few), it seems a UK tradition somehow, though quite determined. Death by driving your car at high speed into the edge of the bridge is more common - I lived in the suicide capital of Canada and the US. None by paracetamol. But I think that is because it is hard to impossible to see them as a self inflicting weapon.

Spence said...

Hi Elizabeth!

That's an angle I sometimes use with patients to persuade them to come to hospital - that their depression is an illness as real as the flu or diabetes - and can be treated with medicine and other therapies just as effectively.

Interesting about paracetamol use/abuse in Canada. I wonder what the stats are on suicides? You hear a lot of anecdotal stuff about men taking the violent action and women tending to the OD, but I've no idea if that's really true or not. All I can say (again, anecdotal / personal exp.) is that we go to a lot of paracetamol ODs, most of those female. I guess it's because it's spur-of-the-moment stuff, and paracetamol is the most commonly avail. drug to hand.