This is another little taster from my forthcoming book Dangerous. The book will be launched on 15 September and is the sequel to my 1998 book Rope Burns.
When I arrive at the hospital next day Herol Graham is howling in pain. Howling. Really howling. It’s a frightening sound that echoes around the ward and startles the other inhabitants. A sound I doubt that Herol ever made when he was inside the ropes, no matter how hard anybody struck him. If it’s at all possible there are even more tubes attached to his body. He has them coming from his arms, from his nose and even from the tip of his penis. No medieval inquisitor ever devised such an elaborate torture apparatus. The tube in his penis is currently inducing an agonising burning sensation and Herol can’t control himself. He howls. And he howls. And then he howls some more.
It’s difficult to know what to do when another person in your close vicinity is in such obvious discomfort. It’s easier, of course, if it’s a child. Your child. What you do then is simply pick them up in your arms and hug them for all you are worth. Such an act can sometimes make you feel better about yourself and there is a chance that the child might also gain some solace. In Herol’s case I can’t really do that. I should be able to but I somehow can’t bring myself to hug another man. Instead I walk over to him and mumble words in his direction in the softest voice I can muster. And I take hold of his hand and clutch it in my own. I gently stroke the fist that was once an instrument of violence and I stare deep into his dark brown eyes.
Herol Graham returns my gaze and for several long moments we say nothing at all. We remain holding hands, oblivious to the rest of the world. When I think about it later I am hard pressed to recall a time when I shared such an intimate moment with a member of the same sex. Herol, of course, may think differently; after all, is not the pre-fight ‘stare-down’ part and parcel of the boxing ritual? We stare at each other for a very long time, until I begin to feel uncomfortable. Eventually to break the spell I declare in mock outrage: ‘I’m going to have to stop holding your hand. It’s getting a bit gay!’
There is the faintest trace of a smile on Herol’s face and he weakly offers a Kenneth Williams’ ‘Ooh matron…’-type retort. At his side, as ever, are Karen and Sedat. I kiss Karen on the cheek and embrace Sedat.
The doctor who previously spoke the other day to myself and Herol’s daughter Natasha had obviously been a little over-optimistic. Those scars that he mentioned then did not go away of their own accord as he had suggested they might. In fact, even more scars have formed, creating the very real risk that the ex-fighter’s bowel will have to be removed. Prior to arriving at the hospital I’d done the obligatory bit of Googling and discovered that the unwelcome scars have a name: they are called abdominal adhesions. I tell Karen everything I have learned about them and she confirms that this is what the doctors have been calling Herol’s condition. In fact, there are eight of the deadly little buggers in total and they are effectively strangling his bowel. The next few hours, she has been told, are crucial. It is imperative that Herol undergoes a bowel movement. If he does not do so the bowel will effectively die and have to be removed. To spend the rest of your life without a bowel is a grim prospect.
The surgeon arrives with two or three doctors and tells us all that he suspects that Herol might be suffering from Chrohn’s disease. Before he has a chance to explain the condition I find myself vociferously disagreeing with him. In his eyes it is plain to see that I am the worst kind of visitor – someone with a little knowledge aided and abetted by Google. I tell him I know all about auto-immune diseases and that Herol is definitely not suffering from Chrohn’s. The surgeon keeps his patience, although it’s fairly obvious that he does not appreciate my unwelcome interjection.
When the group finally leave Herol turns to me and says: ‘I could hear what they were saying about you when they were walking away. One of the said: “That guy is crazy!”‘.
We are advised it is imperative that Herol takes a walk at least once every couple of hours and with this in mind the three of us slowly attempt to haul him out of his bed. It’s slow work: Herol is a dead weight now and the tangle of wires coming from him could easily be dislodged with the slightest mistake. I put my hands under one armpit and Sedat takes the other. Herol climbs shakily to his feet, his head a limp object hanging towards the floor, lacking the strength to straighten his neck.
The former boxer walks on the spot for about a minute but it’s clear that even a limited activity such as this is far too much for him. I suggest that perhaps we should help Herol back into a chair but we struggle to do so. As Sedat and I gently lower him we become entangled in the wires that encircle his body. There is a very real danger that we might pull them out. When we finally have him back in his seat, Herol is sweating like he’s just returned from a ten-kilometre run.
We try to encourage the ex-boxer to drink but he’s not interested. Eventually, however, I manage to get him to take a few sips of a fruit drink that I’ve brought with me and it has an instant effect upon him. Herol tells us that he needs the toilet. I have to admit that this is the first time in my life that a grown man has indicated any desire to defecate in my presence. Ordinarily, such a request would naturally be greeted with less than enthusiasm but now the three of us, Karen, Sedat and I, look into each other’s eyes with a mixture of joy and hope.
Once again we help Herol climb gingerly to his feet, me with one arm, Sedat with the other. It takes five or ten minutes to complete this difficult procedure. Curtains are drawn around his bed and a commode is wheeled into view. A young looking doctor pokes her head around the curtain and sees this happening before quickly beating a hasty retreat. Herol Graham’s surgical gown is loosened and he is lowered on to the commode. Even though he is desperately unwell, the ex-boxer is embarrassed by his predicament. He mumbles an apology, and then another. I tell him he has nothing whatsoever to apologise for.
The stench, of course, is appalling; although I’m having a slightly better time of it than the others on account of my diminished sense of smell, yet another symptom of hypothyroidism. I don’t have time to reflect but later I will ponder upon the course that my decision to return to the world of boxing has taken me on. Would I have been quite so eager to revisit long forgotten memories had I known that the climax to such an undertaking would result in me sitting inches away from a one-time championship boxer while he had a poo? Probably not. It takes a certain type of person to harbour such an ambition.
Curiously though, this particular poo is greeted with celebration from all present. We hold our noses and make stupid jokes and laugh and, I think, instantly develop a closeness, a kinship, that can really only be understood by those who have shared such an experience. And this toilet session is no minor affair: It goes on for a very long time; Herol continues to mumble his embarrassed apologies and we continue to giggle. We can hear other people quietly complaining in the ward. Visitors are suddenly finding excuses to leave the building and inmates attempt to miraculously rise from their sickbeds. I very much doubt that Jesus ever considered using such a technique when he was busy resurrecting Lazarus. In the bed immediately next to Herol is a terminally ill patient who has been given five days to live (this news was whispered to me earlier on in the evening). If he has a god he must be wondering what on earth he’s done to deserve this final indignity