The King of Coughs

November 20, 2009

Earlier this year I wrote a (hopefully) humourous piece about having asthma. Oh, that was easy then, when I was on top form, lungs working at 90% of their capacity, a peak flow of 540.

Now my peak flow is down to 200, a day or two ago 100.

So this leads to insane drug abuse. Mainly of steroids. I double my inhaler usage and I get the multi-purpose Amoxicillin 500 mg and then some dinky elliptical maroon pills called Prednisolone that I take six at at time and can lead to such side effects as Moon-Face and insomnia.

If it’s a clear night and you wake in the middle of it, open your curtains and see me smile down at you.

Yesterday I went for an X-Ray at Lewisham Hospital. The results were fine (I think- they don’t tell you anything, but they did let me leave, and my doctor had said they wouldn’t if there was “anything gross”).

So I head to the Radiology Department (next to the Nuclear Medicine Department… I don’t know, and I was too afraid to ask).

There’s a smallish queue at the reception and two or three ahead of me is the King of Coughs. This man’s cough is relentless. It’s not a barking or hacking cough. It does, sadly, have a hint of the death rattle about it. His cough sounds like a cough trying to cough.

He’s seen to and he coughs to a seat.

A few minutes later I hand in my form and I’m given a green ticket. A39. Tickets like you pull out of a machine when waiting at the delicatessen counter in a supermarket.

I sit near the Rothko print, and a few rows away from the King. He looks like me only twenty years older. And really what I mean by that is that we both need haircuts, a shave and a good bath. We’re like Catweazle and Catweazler.

We both get called at the same time to go to our next waiting post. His name is Edward. We’re given shopping baskets (it is like being at the supermarket!) and asked to go into cubicles, strip to our waists, put our clothes in the baskets and to put on thin green cotton robes.

Then we sit next to each other and wait a few moments, smiling at each other.

Edward goes off for his X-Ray and I go off for mine. Then we both come out and wait again. This time we sit opposite each other and say hello.

Edward has chronic bronchitis. Although Edward has a truly awful and worrying cough, he is smiling and he is happy to talk. He rushes things out, in a seemingly random order; he has chronic bronchitis, his wife died a year ago, he worked and rushed, and ate, and drank, and met, family, a brother, all work, all rush, all coughing… random thoughts that made me think he is leading to an understanding of what condition his condition is in. But it isn’t coming and so I try to prompt him.

But Edward, who is me twenty years on, is quite a little deaf. Through the coughs, and the coughs of the coughs, I try to make myself clear, to be heard. And regular readers of my blog will know that this is not something I normally have difficulty with. But I’m in a hospital, and I’m doing my best to be sensitive, already making enough noise with my own heavy breathing and gasping.

I felt the secret to Edward’s condition was his work. He seemed to be driving at that. Perhaps he’d been a baker, spending a lifetime breathing in flour. Or perhaps he’d worked with asbestos.

I ask him what he did, and he hears. “Worked for the council”.

And then the radiologist approaches us both. We can both get dressed. We can both go. Our doctors will get the results soon. Nothing “gross”.

I’m glad. For both of us. Take care Edward.


Rothko in Lewisham

November 19, 2009

Years ago, when I was young and gloomy, I travelled down to London to see Mark Rothko’s murals at the Tate. There was only one Tate in those days; the London one. And travelling down to London from Manchester was a big deal; this was a pilgrimage. This day had the same power as a Crystal Day in Liverpool or a Blackpool Day at the Pleasure Beach.

These huge and oppressive paintings appealed to me in the way that Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen and the Big Dipper appealed to me. A way that I am still unable to put into words and unwilling and unwanting to try. Instead, I will put them into paintings, music and rollercoasters. That’s the best I can do.

The murals can now be found in Tate Modern. John Banville writes perfectly about them and Rothko here.

They were commissioned for the swanky Four Seasons Restaurant in New York in the late 1950’s. and here’s what Rothko said at the time;

“I accepted this assignment as a challenge, with strictly malicious intentions. I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room. If the restaurant would refuse to put up my murals, that would be the ultimate compliment. But they won’t. People can stand anything these days.”

The restaurant didn’t refuse, but Rothko did withdraw from the commission.

Shortly after giving the paintings to the Tate instead, Rothko cut deep into his arms and died “in a wine-dark sea of his own blood”.

So I was surprised, as I sat in the Radiology Department of Lewisham Hospital, waiting for a chest X-Ray, to find myself close to a Rothko.  Not one of his restaurant ones, but, I think, a miniature of Light Red Over Black, 1957.

I like it. The big one. And I think I have the constitution to contemplate it whilst also contemplating the response of my doctor, yesterday, to my question as to whether the hospital would tell me anything or not; If it’s gross, they’ll keep you in.

Thankfully it wasn’t gross. They didn’t keep me in. Just my asthma having fun. I’m not wheezy; just not really breathing. I’m on steroids now. I was hoping to become Hulk-like, but it seems a real possible side effect* is Moon Face. I’ll settle for that. Sounds like a new Batman villain.

Walking home… ha! At what speed does a walk begin? And what comes before that? It wasn’t a dawdle;  I kept a straight line and an even pace. But noticing me move would be like watching the London Eye spin …I fancied stopping off for a quick nap at Lewisham’s snazzzziest titled bed shop.

* Oh, and insomnia. Hence the late post.