Iowa Writes

ALICE DAVISON
Night and Some Narcotics


Last August I made it a point to stay up in the evening, though I was tired and not able to concentrate on either reading or the television. As soon as it was ten I filled the big syringe with water for flushing the feeding tube, and two of the little syringes with the red narcotic painkiller which was only part codeine, the rest was Tylenol. I took the syringes and two cans of food upstairs with me and I went to bed, lying on my stiff pillow to stay propped up while asleep. The feeding tube pump was my constant companion and incubus, purring away if all went well; if not, it tormented me with alarms set off by a kinked plastic tube.

The best part of the evening was when I put the first painkiller dose into the feeding tube. Lying down set off the extreme pain in my shoulder where the surgeon had gone in through my ribs. I could lie, floating on the narcotic until the pain subsided. I read for a while, always an espionage novel. I read John LeCarr's Tinker Tailor. I now understand the plot of it after many re-readings. My surgical wound was large and shaped like a sickle, and had a discharge just like what happened to Jim Prideaux, the betrayed spy in the book. He was shot up in Czecho, shot in the back in an ambush and later returned to England with no job and an aching wound. It was comforting to re-read this book because I knew how it ended. All was finally clear, though not well, when the mole was unmasked and his tangle of betrayal was revealed, a diagnosis and an explanation of a sort for why things were wrong.

Last August I made it a point to stay up in the evening, though I was tired and not able to concentrate on either reading or the television. As soon as it was ten I filled the big syringe with water for flushing the feeding tube, and two of the little syringes with the red narcotic painkiller which was only part codeine, the rest was Tylenol. I took the syringes and two cans of food upstairs with me and I went to bed, lying on my stiff pillow to stay propped up while asleep. The feeding tube pump was my constant companion and incubus, purring away if all went well; if not, it tormented me with alarms set off by a kinked plastic tube.

The best part of the evening was when I put the first painkiller dose into the feeding tube. Lying down set off the extreme pain in my shoulder where the surgeon had gone in through my ribs. I could lie, floating on the narcotic until the pain subsided. I read for a while, always an espionage novel. I read John LeCarr's Tinker Tailor. I now understand the plot of it after many re-readings. My surgical wound was large and shaped like a sickle, and had a discharge just like what happened to Jim Prideaux, the betrayed spy in the book. He was shot up in Czecho, shot in the back in an ambush and later returned to England with no job and an aching wound. It was comforting to re-read this book because I knew how it ended. All was finally clear, though not well, when the mole was unmasked and his tangle of betrayal was revealed‚ diagnosis and an explanation of a sort for why things were wrong.

After I finished that book, my favorite reading was in several very noir spy novels set during or just before World War II, in which terrible things happen. Actually what happens in the books is much worse than what was actually reported by the BBC at 8 every morning when I woke up. In the books, the hero might be a French movie director, or a Polish officer, or a Hungarian aristocrat, or a poor boy from Bulgaria. It didn't matter; ?the hero is always good and alive at the end of the story.  Surrounded by war, the hero keeps his humanity; he continues his love affairs, keeps writing articles for his newspaper, makes a film and runs his travel bureau, while taking on a secret purpose in defiance of the enemy.  The book often takes place in Paris, with careful descriptions of specific metro stations and cheap hotels as they were in 1940. Or perhaps the story is in Warsaw, or on the Danube or in Portugal or Berlin, with everyone spying on everyone. There were descriptions of lavish black market dinners, which I ate vicariously, not being able to eat anything real.  I liked it all: ?a literary narcotic.

Then I would sleep until the feeding tube pump started to make a racket, beeping to signal that it was empty. I would then pour more of this gray-brown stuff into the reservoir and gratefully take the second dose of painkiller, assuming it was time‚ ?two or three in the morning, four hours past the first dose. Then I would sleep some more until the feeding tube reservoir was emptied of liquid food and I could turn the pump off.  I would sleep until it was very light, as nothing bad could happen in such sun.

I worried about whether I liked the red stuff too much, especially combined with the dark violence of World War II.  One of the nurses who came to check on me said that the antidote to narcotics is pain. The pain in my back subsided just as the bottle of red stuff ran out.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


ALICE DAVISON

Alice Davison has lived in Iowa City and other parts of the Midwest for many years, after graduate study in linguistics at the University of Chicago. She currently teaches linguistics at the University of Iowa. In 2004-5 she underwent medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.

The Patient Voice Project offers free creative writing classes for the chronically and mentally ill in the Iowa City community, taught by Master of Fine Arts students in the Writers' Workshop. The ambition of the program is to explore the therapeutic benefits of writing for those struggling with chronic, mental, and physical pain, to address what medical sociologist Arthur Frank calls the "narrative wreckage" caused by serious injury or illness.

The Patient Voice Project

This page was first displayed
on October 14, 2006

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