Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Back to Casualty

Last week, the symptoms returned. The tingling fingertips, the numb lips: these were two of the symptoms that heralded my stroke back in September. I definitely, positively didn't want to return to The Alfred again, so I ignored the symptoms and figured that I should just go to bed, and they would pass. I rang nurse-on-line and was told to get straight to a hospital and, above all, not to fall asleep. Dreading the possibility that I might be about to go through another few months of hospitalisation and rehab, I gathered up my overnight bag, some spare clothes, then went to the emergency room at The Alfred. It was Friday night and stinking hot, the sort of night where you anticipate there might be a fair bit of alcohol-fuelled violence and that emergency rooms would be clogged with people with knives sticking out of their heads. But the emergency room at The Alfred looked remarkably unoccupied. There were two little old ladies and neither had knives sticking out of their heads. They sat, patiently watching the Australian Open on the TV.
I went to triage - where they had all my particulars on file after the last hospitalisation. The triage nurse did a quick run-through of the tests that indicate whether or not a person might be having an ischemic episode, then I became aware of some noise behind me. The triage nurse, who had a broad Scottish burr, which can sound very authoritative and excellent for crowd control, announced to whoever was behind me that she would deal with only one patient at a time - and that currently I was that patient. The noise continued. I turned around quickly but looked at the floor. I didn't want to make eye contact with any patients who had just been told that I had priority. There was quite a lot of blood on the floor, which made it pretty much impossible for me not to have a look at whichever patient was the source of so much blood. There was an Indian teenager, being held up by two friends. Blood poured from his stomach, Apparently he had just been stabbed. He didn’t look dangerous at all, just surprised and fearful. (Which is how I guess I would look if I had blood gushing from a knife wound in my belly.) I told the triage nurse (in her defence, she hasn't seen the blood) that I was happy to let the Indian boy go ahead of me, and she agreed that this was probably a good idea. In no time at all, he was whisked away to an operating theatre so that someone could stitch him together again. I really hope the stabbing wasn't an act of racially motivated violence. I've read enough articles on The Times Of India website, warning young Indian students that such violent racist attacks are common, and that one (in Spotswood) had ended in a death. (Fortunately there are also op ed pieces by jorrnalists with a better world view, advising readers that the stabbers are a particularly small minority, and that most Australians welcome the Indian students with open arms - but these types of articles do not sell nespapers and are rarely given prominence.)
While I stood aside for the young Indian kid to receive emergency treatment, I realised that the tingling fingertips and numb lips I had been experiencing seemed to have cleared up. They still gave me a CT scan, and they made me wait until I was given the all-clear by the doctor . The ischemic episode had passed. The small clot of blood that had blocked a vessel in my brain had apparently cleared itself. This often happens, but if you're an ex-stroke-patient, it's best to get yourself to casualty as soon as you experience any of those symptoms. I asked one of the nurses if they treated many stabbings at The Alfred, and her comment was that there were about fou per month. This surprised me. I thought the figure would be higher. The nurse said, 'That's high enough for us.' Quite.

On the corner of Chapel Street and Balaclava Roads in Balaclava, there's a gift shop that seems to specialise in items of Russian manufacture. So there are plenty of wooden dolls and toy bears in the window. There is also a whole shelf of knives - all spectacularly lethal-looking and pretty in their own way. And across the road is The St Kilda Police Station. Last year, there was a community service poster campaign in St Kilda, featuring the photoshopped image of a boy with his face stitched up. Beneath was a caption that more or less said, 'Don't stab people. You might get in trouble.'  (A quick bit of research reveals that the caption was actually KNIVES SCAR LIVES .. though it still worries me that people need to be reminded of this.) So, we've become so lacking in empathy that we need to be told that knives are dangerous. And, as an added incentive for people with knives not to stab people, there is the indication that the stabber him/herself might suffer, never mind the kid with a knife in him. 

And the shop in Balaclava, I'm sure, continues to do a roaring trade. The wooden dolls seem to be slow movers, but the variety, beauty and heft of the knives seems ever changing.

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