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Canadian eccentricities, one nurse’s fear of sewing machines and J.K.Rowling…

Premier John Horgan wants B.C. to “Live long and prosper”

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent who, in a former incarnation, used to dress up as a nurse on stage, then disrobe, sent me an email last Friday about the fact that, when John Horgan, British Columbia’s 36th Premier was sworn into office the previous day, he had raised his hand to recite the oaths of allegiance, office and confidentiality, then his fingers separated to give the Vulcan salute used by Mr Spock on Star Trek.

Now Anna has updated me:


While the Premier of B.C. was flashing his Vulcan hand signal, I was in a police station on Main Street, Vancouver, wearing my hand-sewn Cthulhu mask for another fashion show to benefit the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

…It’s all happening at the Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre in Vancouver…

This is the same women’s center that Meghan Markle visited earlier this year. I believe I was in the shower there at the time… but they didn’t tour her through the shower area.

I tend to shower in various places. I once had a shower at Vancouver City Hall.

I never showered on stage though… at least, I don’t think so. 

At the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre show (L-R) Erna, Sarah and Nurse Annie

That was a fad in the seventies. I might have done it once, but if I did, I have blocked it from my memory. More likely, I danced on a stage where I was told to shower and refused to do so. That is one good thing about dressing as a nurse.  People are less likely to tell you what to do. There’s always a suspicion in the back of their minds that you might be a real nurse.

I am always in awe of what I call ‘real nurses’. 

Last time I was at St. Paul’s, I told a male nurse that I had been a pretend nurse, and been stripping as Nurse Annie, he said that I WAS a real nurse too, adding kindly: “There’s more than one way to be a nurse!”

We had to sew our own masks for the fashion show. We were placed in a large room in the police station, with distanced trestle tables which had a sewing machine at each one. A feeling of dread came over me. I hate sewing machines and have difficulty following patterns. A volunteer fashion student tried to explain how to follow the pattern exactly. 

But I didn’t WANT a normal mask and it turned out that I had been given the WORST sewing machine. The thread kept breaking over and over. All the other ladies had nice new machines and soon they had dainty masks, which they decorated with sequins and buttons. 

I had the idea of making a more costume-y mask, with long, long ribbons that tied in a bow at the back. But, by the end of the workshop, all I had were mixed-up strips of fabric and meters of green thread tangling into massive knots, bobbins flying, cloth pieces on the floor. I looked like Lucille Ball at the end of an episode. 

Anna, post-shower, in Emma Goldman T-shirt …Anarchist Emma hated sewing machines…

I felt like I was back in high school, like my head was going to explode and I walked out after the class fuming… I had wanted to model, not use a stupid sewing machine! 

On the street, I ran into a Quebecoise stripper friend of mine and told her my woes. Surely, as a dancer, she would understand how awful sewing was? She listened a bit, before interrupting: “You do know I’m a seamstress, don’t you?”

Her entire family had been tailors for generations!

She said she could easily sew the mask for me. 

I actually hand-sewed the face part. I can sew by hand, no problem. But the long ribbons would have taken forever…

In a couple of days she had them done: meters of cloth  sewn into long neat ribbons, with nice diagonal tips, like laces.

The show went OK. It was live-streamed and raised money with the tickets and an auction. But I missed having a live audience. And we were confused because we could barely hear our music… though it was heard by the viewers.

I danced to JJ Cale’s song Call Me The Breeze, because his music is so relaxing…

Of course, people asked if I was really a nurse…

Afterwards, I met two more real nurses. One was at a clinic, where I had a COVID-19 test. 

COVID is now spreading rapidly through the Downtown East Side, after a slow start there.

The second nurse was a surprise… I walked into what I thought was a storefront cannabis shop (it used to be), looking for some rolling papers for a neighbour.

I was very surprised to learn that I was in Vancouver’s first psychedelic mushroom shop. Now people don’t have to go down to ‘Mad Mike’s Mushroom Tent’ in front of Pacific Central Station all the time. 

Well, in fact, I don’t  think Mad Mike’s is open in the winter time.

The new mushroom shop on Granville Street is called Zoomers, and there is a registered nurse named Rachelle on staff there. Clients have to have a brief consultation in Rachelle’s office, fill out a form and promise not to drive whilst on mushrooms.

Micro-dosing is recommended…

That was yesterday. This morning, at the very busy intersection of Granville and Georgia, I saw some odd sights:

A middle aged man with a flushed face wearing a Santa hat and also wearing two signs. One sign said:

“I (heart) J.K. Rowling.”

…In eccentric Vancouver, close to the giant statue of Satan…

I take it he was the same man who paid for a billboard saying the same thing in East Vancouver (close to where the giant statue of Satan was erected). The City of Vancouver had the billboard message removed for being an expression of transphobia.  

The other sign the man was wearing said something ridiculous like “Children have the right to experience PUBERTY”.

Another unhinged-seeming man nearby had an ominous sign on his bicycle warning those who do not love Jesus that they are DOOMED for eternity. He was staggering about and holding a stretched-out white coat hanger, for no apparent reason.

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Filed under Canada, Eccentrics

UK comedian Matt Roper has ended up in a wheelchair in a hospital in Saigon

Matt Roper in hospital yesterday in Saigon (Photograph by nurse Than Thiet Sang)

Matt Roper in hospital yesterday in Saigon (Photograph by nurse Than Thiet Sang)

Oh the joys of modern communication via the internet.

The last I heard from British comedian Matt Roper was just over a month ago when I blogged that he had diarrhoea in India after a rather too enthusiastic encounter with a local drink called Fenny.

Imagine my surprise then, yesterday, when I received an e-mail from Saigon… and the cyber conversation that ensued.

MATT: I am hospitalized in Saigon. God giveth but he doesn’t piss about when he takes it away again… But I thank him for Cuban trained nurses and free wi-fi! Hope you are well!

JOHN: You are hospitalised? Seriously? With what? Are you insured? Are you OK? If there is a ceiling fan, you can live the start of Apocalypse Now! – “Saigon… Shit, I’m still in Saigon…” Are you OK? (Given that you are in hospital) Actually, yes, Cuban levels of healthcare will be a bonus point.

MATT: Cubans train some of the finest doctors and nurses in the world. Latin America is very, very lucky to have them. Some of the staff here trained in Cuba, Vietnam being communist and all, the two countries have a strong relationship. They’re amazing with me.

JOHN: So how are you?

Matt is in the Franco-Vietnamese Hospital in Saigon

Matt is in the Franco-Vietnamese Hospital – officially in Ho Chi Minh City – but it is still called Saigon by almost everyone

MATT: I’m fine but for my right leg. Deep vein thrombosis. Specialist reckons it can be healed back to normal 100%. But then she also thinks footballer Wayne Rooney is the British prime minister. I’m in a fucking wheelchair and on a drip. But strangely enjoying being waited on and given the opportunity to rest as much as I want. Franco-Vietnamese Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City. Fully covered for travel insurance. Thank fuck.

JOHN: How/why are you in Saigon? Your trip was to India.

MATT: I don’t fucking know. Why does the sun rise in the morning and then set again in the evening? Life leads me John and not the other way around.

JOHN: Deep vein thrombosis? Jesus. That’s the thing you’re supposed to get from long-distance flights, isn’t it? Keep a diary of your stay. It could be an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show.

MATT: That remains to be seen.

JOHN: Have you been elsewhere in SE Asia? Laos is interesting.

MATT: I spent a week or so in Bangkok. From there I came here. First time in Vietnam for me. When a new nurse comes to deal with me they ask if I live here in Saigon. When I say “Just a holiday” they sort of throw their heads back and laugh. What luck I have! What sort of a man gets deep vein thrombosis from a 90 minute flight? I ask you.

JOHN: What are your impressions of Saigon?

MATT: The ceiling in my room. The pisspot by my bed. The steady wheels of the commode, gliding gently across the polished floor of the ward. Seriously, the night before I was in the hospital, I was in the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel sipping coffee, looking out over the rooftops of the city, my heart filled with joy. Isn’t there an Arabic proverb? One minute your hand is in your pocket, the next it’s up your arse… ?

Saigon in 1989, from the roof of the Rex Hotel

Saigon as it was in 1989, from the roof of the Rex Hotel

JOHN: I was in Saigon in 1989. I remember having drinks atop the Rex Hotel.

MATT: During the Vietnam War (it’s called the American War here) the Caravelle Hotel was the base for all the foreign journalists. That hotel was bombed, they managed to hit one of the rooms, but they reckon if they’d have targeted the bar instead they would’ve taken out every last one of the hacks.

JOHN: How did the hospitalisation happen?

MATT: I thought I’d torn my calf muscle. After three days I couldn’t walk, so I ended up coming in for a check-up. They gave me an ultra-sound scan and it turned out to be thrombosis. A public statement to the fact that I am suffering and I continue to suffer. Even Lewis Schaffer couldn’t lay claim to this.

JOHN: I wouldn’t be so sure.

MATT: I have only just let go of the notion that actually they’re going to amputate my leg. The things that have crossed this restless mind… If they did amputate it, would they show it to me afterwards? Would I want to see it? I doubt it. But, on the other hand, my chances of getting a series with the BBC would increase tenfold.

JOHN: I will blog about this tomorrow. Do you have a picture of yourself in a wheelchair or similar?

MATT: You’re a sick man, Fleming.

Modern-day Saigon, fortunately with Cuban-trained nurses

Modern-day Saigon, fortunately with Cuban-trained nurses

JOHN: Seriously. Send me a photo. When are you out?

MATT: When I’m allowed out. I don’t know. I think maybe a week or so more. I still can’t walk proper, so…

JOHN: Are you going elsewhere? Or coming straight back to the UK?

MATT: I really don’t know. I have either to stay put in Vietnam as they need to monitor my blood regularly or get back to Bangkok overland until it’s safe for me to fly again. Still, there’s stacks of material. Stacks of the stuff.

JOHN: It is an Edinburgh Fringe show. Trust me.

MATT: Nurse Than Thiet Sang must be credited for taking the attached photos of me. She was on a mission checking blood pressure before she was stopped to take these. If you really want a wheelchair shot you will have to wait until the male nurse who wheels me out for a strictly forbidden cigarette is on shift (later today).

JOHN: Too late. I will survive. I hope you do too.

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Filed under Comedy, Health, Vietnam

What happened when I was admitted to a mental asylum when I was newly 18

I was born on Friday 28th July.

Just after my 18th birthday, on Friday 11th October, I tried to kill myself because of a girl. I have blogged about it before.

Obviously I failed and after I got out of hospital – as was not uncommon then – it was suggested I should go into a mental asylum. It was at Goodmayes, Ilford, in East London.

On Saturday 19th October, I wrote to a friend in Wales about it:

________________________

I never was any good at chemistry in school – I think I once managed to come next-to-bottom instead of bottom. I got out of King George’s Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. My underpants and one black sock had disappeared mysteriously while I was in there.

On Wednesday evening, I went in voluntarily to Goodmayes Hospital (the nuthouse) because I knew I wanted a rest and they thought I wanted help.

I was only there for one day because, on Thursday evening, I discharged myself, much to the annoyance of a point-nosed grey-haired man – a charge nurse – slightly balding, who filled in all sorts of forms and kept muttering about the extra work.

There was a secretary to the point-nosed grey-haired charge nurse – tall, thin and always reading intently – who laughed nervously at anything. He laughed loudly and shrilly. A really shrill laugh. He seemed like a patient, but he was one of the staff. The difference between the staff and the patients was that the patients walked slower.

Anyway, this charge nurse bloke was giving me what sounded like a prepared and rehearsed lecture on how I should not discharge myself and, at the same time, he was rolling a cigarette, looking down at it while he rolled it.

“You’re not reading it from the cigarette paper, are you?” I asked.

“Now why do you say that?”

“Hallucinations?”

“Well, it could be…”

I think that was why he was not too keen on letting me out.

He thought I might be seeing little green point-capped and grinning goblins crawling out of cracks in the walls.

When I had arrived at Goodmayes Hospital on Wednesday night, I had been very depressed. Very in the pits. They gave me a pill which gave me a surge into emotional elation. I did not really want to be elated but I had no choice. It was like a rocket taking off inside my body after I took the pill. Phwoeeeeeeehhh! Mindless happiness. I had trouble getting to sleep so they gave me two sleeping pills. The difference between the staff and the patients was that the patients walked slower.

The next morning, a doctor interviewed me at his desk in his room.

“You seem to explain it very well,” he told me. “I am talking to some students tomorrow. You can come and talk about your feelings to them so they can understand how someone like you thinks.”

The last thing I wanted to do was to talk to a room full of students like some academic lecturer. I wanted a rest. I did not want an audience. I wanted to be away from people. I realised they were not going to let me alone. I wanted a rest and they thought I wanted help.

I was in a ward with about ten people.

There was a queer bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes who had not had a shave that day. He kept going on about masturbation and had I ever let anyone do it to me and how good it would be. He was one of the nurses. He had started as a nurse in Goodmayes Hospital seven years ago, then left and been a clerk and a book-keeper and all sorts of things but then he came back.

“I came back to take care of people like you,” he told me.

When he heard I was discharging myself, he looked me deep in my eyes and told me:

“You’ll be back. People always come back. They think they won’t. But they come back.”

Also in the ward, there was an Irishman who read books about three inches from his nose and held them tightly with both hands and never looked at anyone, avoiding any eye contact with anyone else.

Then there was the hairy man with a torn pyjama jacket who lived in a triangular padded room at the back of the ward. They let him out for meals. He walked oddly, like he was doing it in slow motion. He would say: “Charles the First said it would happen,” and “Charles the First said he would never indulge it. He said he would never indulge it,” and “Harold Wilson Harold Wilson Harold Wilson Harold Wilson.”

And then there was the 20 year-old boy in the wheelchair who said he had a jaw disease.

“I’m in here because I have a jaw disease,” he told me.

He looked backward but I don’t think he was.

He kept talking about how he used to go mountain climbing and bog exploring.

“I used to like to go to quiet places and old ruins where I was completely alone,” he told me. “When I was outside. Before I came in here.”

He told me how he wanted to go camping and hiking. How told me how he threw cups and plates and bottles up in the air and liked to see things destroyed.

“I like to see things destroyed,” he told me.

He did nothing but cut out pictures of the athlete Lillian Board.

He was making a large Olympic chart backed by hardboard, covered with pictures of Lillian Board.

When I told him I was leaving that night, his eyes were like the sea without waves. He told me his girlfriend Evie, who used to live in Chingford, could not visit him very often.

“She has gone to live in Exeter,” he told me.

I gave him my address. I told him to write to me and promised to visit him.

When I left, the queer bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes was telling him about an isolated shed in the gardens outside the ward.

“You will be in here for a long time,” the bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes was saying to the 20 year-old boy looking up at him from the wheelchair, “And I will be in here too.”

_________________________

After I got out, I never wrote to the boy in the wheelchair. He never wrote to me. Other things happened.

Two years later, the athlete Lillian Board died of bowel cancer, 13 days after her birthday. She was 22.

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Filed under Health, Mental health