1977-1978 + West Roxbury, MA
We are about to radically change gears and embark on a discussion of those most delicate and forbidden of quadriplegic subjects: sex, defecation and urination. Not in that order, however. As we shall see, they are intertwined in a hideous ballet like witches around a campfire concocting unspeakable misery, a la Mac Beth. As a preemptive measure and to reduce my personal exposure, to quote a lawyer I know, allow me to warn you the following is not for the sexually squeamish, nor is it directed to the perverts among us.
Perhaps those who admit to such qualities should move on to a less offensive section, like the one in which a former client discovers her husband having sex with the family dog.
I hastened to add for my crippled kin that I speak strictly for and about myself. What follows applies to no one but your well meaning, if at times misguided, author. An advertiser I am not. Unfortunately, I will NOT discuss the mechanics of the sex business any more than is necessary, lest my dear beloved Mother role over in her grave. Even I wouldn't go that far. Those disclaimers duly noted and entered into the record, I hereby depose and state:
Circa December, 1977 + West Roxbury VA Hospital, MA
Several of the stories that follow have a decidedly R, if not X rating and may be unsuitable for some. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
[Note to reader: I am aware of the psychological implication regarding speaking of one's penis by nickname and in the third person. Lodge your complaint as you will.]
I had been injured about three months; so far, Erectiod (E for short) worked just fine. At times too fine. During bed baths and other close encounters of the intimate feminine variety, what with naughty, nubile nurses softly sponging sensitive sexual sites, blood would flow and E and I would stand at attention in a combination of embarrassment and pride. You could say I was swelling with pride, if dumb puns were your thing, that is. It seemed E could stand at attention for hours. I was elated. 'I'll be no eugenic, but a medical marvel both here and when I get home', I thought. These stories should give a sense why my optimism was like that of a man on the gallows believing the rope would break. Fat chance!
To repeat: Our ward had a very attractive, sexy, and hot-blooded late-shift nurse we called 'The Pecker Checker'. She had the habit of nightly, surreptitious, hands-on inspections. Like a conscientious lamplighter of olde, she would silently steal from bed to bed. She alone performed this task.
Oddly enough, all the guys were quite fond of her. Funny, that. Following her much-anticipated nocturnal visits, during which I'd feign sleep while being on the verge of a sexually-induced stroke, E and I would bask in the glory of our unerring ability to pitch the tent of erectile success. Consequently, being as I was one of the fortunate ones, I thought, "at least that's OK." From time to time, what one hand giveth, so to speak, the other taketh away. You can probably see where this is headed.
That was generally true of what was euphemistically misnamed the "Bowel Program', which was really no more than shit at all costs somehow, anyhow. But only at the proper time. Or else. 'Or else', was never explained at length, exactly, but we all pretty much got THAT picture. Anyway, horror stories abounded. In fact, several follow. I had very few difficulties in that quarter, no 'Blow-Outs', my regularity was regular, and I was relieved again. Yeah, Ray, good luck with that shit thing.
Ditto Urine Management. You've got to love the terminology, as if there really were a manager appointed for this purpose. No, simply put, it means get the piss flowing copiously out of your body by following the prescribed regimen: drink gallon of water daily and quarts of pure cranberry juice until you're gagging on it, swallow about a zillion milligrams of vitamin C, get plenty of exercise, don't smoke, don't booze, twenty years of schoolin'...I was one of the conscientious few; did what I was told. I was a good example of the well-adjusted quadriplegic.
All this was happening while I was struggling not to die inside. Behavior in the spinal cord ward that appears at face value to be 'well-adjusted' resembles a band aid covering a festering sore. Beneath an innocuous surface lays depths of pain and anger no one truly wants to see. So it was with me. I dutifully jumped through the necessary rehabilitative hoops and appeared to be the model of acceptance.
Meanwhile the random and arbitrary haunted me, like Banquo's ghosts. Witness: Dave was in a car crash with two friends. One escaped unhurt, one died, and one was a quadriplegic for life. A woman in a removed ward had slipped, twisted her ankle, lost her balance, and fell to the sidewalk on a clear, sunny day. No motorcycle accident, no diving mishap, no fall from any height, no reason at all. Random and arbitrary. Within a month of my fall, a friend fell almost twenty feet from scaffold to ground. He didn't have a scratch.
As I progressed week-by-week, one question plagued my effort: Why me? Why not some guy in Iowa or a drunk driver in Wyoming? Invariably, the silence was deafening in its intensity. No response, or the one below, opened out into endless anguished surmise. At any rate, blank silence was one of the two responses I got. The other was the inquiry without answer: Why not you?
Things worked. E E'd, poop pooped, and piss pissed. So, all in all, other than the horribly crippled for life thing, matters could have been a lot worse. Things got worse, much worse. And it didn't take long.
One of the villains in this patricular piece was bladder infections. We all know that bladders infect. For me, it went like this: as a consequence of incontinence, urine collected there, bacteria grew there, and infections infected there. It was serious business. One nasty little poser could bring malaria symptoms: fever, chills, nausea, extreme fatigue, kidney infections, stones, failure, and, eventually, death. So, to keep the urine from collecting, my VA doctor said he wanted to surgically cut the bladder neck (that's the narrow opening through which urine flows out), cauterize the cut (scorch it with some noxious chemical, like mercury, so the cut never closed), and the urine would run away easily, carrying the nasty little villains to freedom, like Orca to the ocean.
Linda, who had her own stake in this, was very apprehensive and suspicious about the sexual ramifications. She didn't particularly trust this Doctor, whose bedside manner was like that of Lady Mac Beth. "Oh, no," said the surgical Scot, "not to worry, there are virtually no sexual side effects". That 'virtually' hung out there like Mac Beth in Duncan's chamber, ominous indeed. The Doctor was adamant and I folded under the pressure.
Linda was very angry. She was always more sharply attuned than I. Things seemed OK at first, so I breathed easier. Initially Erectiod did what erectiods do, urine flowed freely, and the shitting was OK, happily so. Linda and I were anxiously optimistic and pessimistic in turns, fearing that, for our ages, as the sex went, so would go the marriage. I mean, after all, she didn't marry Tiny Tim. However, in a few short weeks, infections and other bladder complications followed. The nefarious, knife-happy Doctor lobbied hard for yet a second operation like the first. Like before, I consented. Linda fumed.
Rightly so. Mac Beth did to us what he he did to Duncan. E was never the same: never as responsive, never as long-lasting. In today's erstwhile sophisticated jargon, this would read, 'erectile quality was problematic'. This was long before Bob Dole discovered his little blue friend Viagra. As the sex went bad, events conspired and multiplied in suit. Paraphrasing Shakespeare's Rosencrantz: "The cease of...[sex].../Dies not alone; but, like a gulf, doth draw/What's near it with it...". The following examples, drawn from many, should prove the point.