Earlier this year a good friend of mine contracted a rare condition known as ‘Guilllain-Barre Syndrome’ – a secondary illness that attacks the nervous system. One moment he was recovering from flu and the next he was being rushed to hospital; unable to either walk or breathe.
Just before visiting him in intensive care his wife phoned to say that he had no facial movement and wouldn’t be able to respond to anything I said. Walking down the corridor and waiting to be buzzed through I ask myself how I would react and what I could possibly say.
The sight that awaited me was heart-breaking. He was connected to an intubator and his face was frozen in an awful, sad dispondency – So sad in fact that I decided there and then to smile defiantly and say whatever caustic, bloke-ish comment came into my head first. It arrived. I turned to the nurse at the foot of his bed and uttered:
‘You know, it’s a good job he can’t talk as he normally has a high-pitched squeeky voice, and when he walks he minces on his hips like a transvestite.’
My friend made no response. Inwardly I asked myself ‘Does he appreciate the banter, or is he going out of his mind, or both?’ The result was that I veered into gushing sentimentality before regretting that even more than the sarcasm and veering back. For two hours I ping-ponged between equally bad options before saying goodbye.
In April, when he was at his worst, I was getting the The Melting Pot finalised for publication. It’s tag-line was ‘How do you escape from a vicious circle?’ All I thought about at the time was ‘How could a 29-year old find himself in such a physical state, and how could he come back from it?’ It put my little quest very much into perspective and I decided to dedicate the book to him. It reads ‘Back from the dead,’ which is exactly what he did. Today he is 90% fit and expected to make a full recovery.
Despite being completely paralysed for months, losing over four stone in weight, stopping breathing and having to be resusitated, he recently said to me that “2007 has been a good year. I’ve been blessed in so many ways.” That kind of outlook fills me with awe…
…Having said that, he somehow managed to get his wife pregnant so he can’t have been that ill!