“You can’t use language like that in here” my father said, taking command. “There are nurses and other patients in here. You can’t swear like that in front of them” he said.
To which the man seemingly took no notice.
“Listen” said my father. “If you are going to use language like that, you can get out. Otherwise, you can take a seat but you need to keep your mouth shut.”
The man listened to my father, walked to the back of the room and as he did so let out another jet-stream of banned words which took flight between the ones he used to agree to my father’s demand.
“Okay” he said, sitting down. “But I just **** want ****someone to help me **** with my Tourette’s.”
My father listens to my re-telling of his story.
“Yes … I heard your brother telling you it was Sydney Hospital,” says my father. “But actually, it was the Metropolitan Hospital in London.”
“And the man had hit someone. I was upstairs and I got a call from the nurse asking if I could please come down because a man had just walked in and had hit the wards man and was being abusive. The nurse was only little” he says, “I think she was from the West Indies.”
“I went down and there was this man being very abusive to everyone and threatening to hit people. I went up to him and told him he couldn’t hit people or use that kind of language there and that he had to leave.
“Then he said: but doctor, I can’t go outside. I keep hitting people. I’m scared I am going to do it again. I need someone to help me. ”
My father remembers it well because his mind is bright, as always – in his words, about the only thing left that is still functioning properly.
“Well that’s open to debate” I say and he laughs.
My father finishes the story: an ambulance was called to take the man to a psychiatric hospital for help. But the ambulance was delayed, took hours, says my father, who had to stay with him lest the man hit someone again.
“So what happened?”
“So I had wait with him in the outpatients department for hours. And I was really annoyed because I had tickets to the Wimbledon final but I couldn’t get away so I missed it. It was my first date with another nurse from the hospital but I couldn’t take her because I had to stay with this fellow and wait for the ambulance.”
My father tells me he was even more annoyed because there was an Australian in the final.
“Did he win?”
“No” he says “he lost. He was playing an Egyptian and I was disappointed because the crowd were all on the Egyptian’s side and we had just supported them (Britian) in the war. I was angry about that” my father says.
Maybe the Australian would have had more of a chance with my father in the crowd.
“Did you get to any other Wimbledon finals?” I ask.
“Yes” he says, “I went to a few.”
But I don’t ask him which ones. He is tired. And my head is still spinning with news that my father went to a few Wimbledon tennis finals which is many more than I have been to since I am still on none. I would easily take a round one match, Wimbledon or Melbourne, doesn’t matter. It is my favourite couch sport. Wimbledon is more appealing because of the strawberries although I can easily eat them on this couch.
My father lies back on his bundle of pillows, nestled here and there, underneath and around him.
The pillows, bedclothes and blankets are all white, in a bedroom almost completely white but for a set of blue, patterned curtains, the colour of a Manly beach on a sparkling day. And a beautiful, blue watercolour of roses which hangs on the wall opposite the bed. It is only a print but it is so lovely; the whole thing looks like it was painted in seconds, hardly any brush strokes, only what is necessary then a beautiful indigo wash. My mother hung it there years ago – and here it is, still here.
There is so much light in this room and Sheilagh has made it pretty with all this white and blue. I sit close to my father’s bed in a white wicker chair, which I could easily take home, it is so charming. But it is perfect here and I am no robber baroness.
By some miracle, make that several, my father has avoided disappearing many times just in these last few months. He is like some sort of cat which is not surprising given his astrological bearing. One who can tame a broken, swearing man.
Sometimes you think: this is it. And then next thing, he is recovered, bing! Like that! And it looks like he can go on indefinitely. Then it happens again. I guess it can’t go on indefinitely but in some ways maybe it can, or we do, because when someone dies I have only ever felt that they have left the room or the city or wherever, to go somewhere else.
So I put it to my big cat father.
“Do you like Chinese medicine?” I ask Xen, who looks after my father on Mondays which is today. She grew up in the coutryside in China, so she might.
“Yes!” She says “but not acupuncture. I hate needles!” I already love her but now I love her even more; in return, she adores my father.
“Dad” I say “how about when you come back, you come back as a Chinese Master and practice Chinese Medicine and do operations using only acupuncture needles as anaesthetic?”
Even from his lying down position in bed, he gives me that “I can’t believe you just said that … (ridiculous thing)” look because, well, they can be kind of proud, these kings. These lions. Proud, determined – better not to challenge their will, it will be a waste of your time – courageous.
Which makes them very lucky cats indeed.
Vinatge Illustration: Celestino Piatti, Animal ABC (1965) on My Vintage Book Collection