Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The slow death of a kind of masculinity

When I got to the hospital yesterday they put me in a men's ward. Apologising profusely: the hospital's in a crisis, they said, we have to put people wherever we can.

Opposite me was a man lying on his bed dressed only in boxer shorts. He was plainly very ill, his skin blotchy and mottled, his body seriously overweight. He was on oxygen, and breathing with difficulty.

There was something aggressive about his nakedness. As if , in spite of his illness, and his weakness, he still desperately needed to assert himself.

It distressed me to see him, and I was glad they closed the curtain around me. But no-one could shield me from his voice. He needed the toilet. He told everyone how he needed the toilet. But he wouldn't use a bottle. He was determined to go to the toilet.  But he couldn't go without oxygen. There wasn't an oxygen cylinder on the ward, so someone went to look for one.

And eventually, coughing and spluttering, I heard him dragging his his feet  to the toilet.

We could all hear him in the toilet, too, he was making the most astonishing amount of noise. And afterwards, the staff were figuring where they could find he wipes to mop up his mess.

We're all used to this kind of man, because one of them is president of America.

Probably if I'd still been living as a man I would have found his presence completely intolerable. Instead I found myself feeling sorry for him. In his atrocious, insatiable need to assert himself as life and dignity slipped away.

And then a man came to wheel me away. Somehow he managed to manoeuvre my bed out of the impossibly cluttered and congested ward and I found myself telling him what a good driver he was.

And I wonder how much my need to flatter his ego was somehow connected with the aggressively naked and atrociously suffering man I had left behind.

Who I never saw again. Because I came back to the ward to find I'd been moved over to the women's side.

And I don't think it was just all the sedative they'd given me they made it seem just so very much nicer.

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