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Marzipan Cat Zombies

Published April 20, 2020 by Naomi Rettig

Phil pushed the bookcase against the door then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the bottom of his Captain America t-shirt. He noticed his hands trembling and balled them into fists so his friends wouldn’t see.

‘That’s pointless. Cats can’t open doors,’ said Joe. He slumped onto the bed next to Rohan.

Phil looked across at his two friends. Joe was wearing his Chicago Bears top. His dad had sent it to him and he always wore it unless it was in the wash. His scruffy brown hair looked extra tussled after running here. Rohan’s turban still looked immaculate but his shallow breathing and sweaty face betrayed his fitness level. ‘Just in case. Cats don’t normally turn into marzipan and eat people either. We don’t know what they can do now.’

‘I don’t think they’ll be able to open doors.’ Joe fiddled with his neon green shoelace.

‘Well, just in case. Humor me.’ Phil paced across to the bed and kicked Joe’s foot.

‘Hey, guys, c’mon,’ said Rohan. His chunky glasses magnified his big brown eyes blinking back the threat of tears.

Joe placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘Sorry Ro, you ok?’

‘Of course he’s not ok numb nuts, he just watched his sister being bitten by a marzipan cat and then turning into marzipan herself.’ Phil pulled up his desk chair and sat down opposite Joe and Rohan.

Joe stretched out and lightly kicked Phil’s leg. ‘I’m aware of that number nuts. I saw it too. And old Mrs. Terry on the corner, all her five cats had marzipaned. She had no chance.’

‘What’s happening guys? What we gonna do?’ Rohan’s eyes flicked back and forth between Joe and Phil, like a mole emerging into bright sunshine.

Phil sighed and stared at the skateboarding scab on his knee. He had to be brave for his friends. He tried to keep his voice as steady as he could. ‘I don’t know.’

‘When will your mom and dad be back?’ Rohan threw his question in Phil’s direction.

Phil rubbed his eyes, his hands slightly trembling, he clenched them again. ‘I don’t think they’ll be coming back. It was on the TV before you both got here. It’s all over the place, the cats, they’re everywhere. The news said to stay wherever you are and don’t go outside.’

Joe pulled his legs up onto the bed and tucked them under himself. ‘They can’t be everywhere.’

‘They’re everywhere,’ said Phil through gritted teeth. ‘It’s marzipan madness out there.’

Rohan knelt on the bed, spying out of the window. He could see yellow cats, lots of yellow cats, almond assassins, prowling and pacing along the hydrangea-lined neighborhood. ‘They are everywhere. What we gonna do Phil?’

Joe frowned. ‘Why you asking Phil not me?’

‘Phil’s the eldest.’

‘Ro we’re all thirteen.’ Joe raised his eyebrows and shook his head.

‘Yes, but Phil’s still the eldest.’

‘By five days.’

Phil stood up. ‘Hey, I think who’s the eldest isn’t really important right now.’

Rohan sat back from the window and trailed his finger along Saturn’s rings on Phil’s duvet cover. ‘Yeah, well, I was just saying.’ He shrugged while staring into the universe on the bed. ‘I dunno what to do.’

‘We can stay here? Wait for help.’ Joe nodded at his own suggestion.

‘Help won’t be coming.’ Phil sat back down on his chair and swiveled back and forth. ‘Everyone bitten or scratched turns to marzipan and dies.’

Joe turned and took up Rohan’s spy post at the window. ‘Why aren’t the cats dying? When they turn to marzipan, why aren’t they dying, like the people?’

‘I don’t know. I didn’t create the mutant marzipan moggies did I?’ Phil dabbed sweat off his forehead again. He wanted Captain America to be real, to swoop in and save the day.

‘Didn’t they say on the news?’

‘They don’t know. But the people, after they’ve turned and are dead, they come back to life. Zombies.’

Joe spun away from the window and looked back at Phil. ‘Shit.’

‘So they are ok then?’ Rohan blinked hopefully towards Phil.

Phil smiled. ‘Yeah they’re fine.’ He dropped his smile like a hot potato. ‘Of course they’re not ok, they’re made of solid marzipan, doofus. You saw your sister. Did she look fine?’

Rohan ran his fingers along the hem of his camouflage shorts as a make-do comforter while staring at the fabric planets. Joe slumped under the window and bit at his nails. Phil rotated slowly on the chair, trying to think what to do. What would Captain America do? A clock in the shape of a rocket ticked behind Phil on his desk. The tick-tock silence was broken by loud meowing and human screams outside.

Joe spun around to look out of the window again. ‘Jeez. Mr. Howard has turned. He looks like a Simpson. He’s trying to get into the Kiplinski’s porch.’

‘If no help is coming we’re going to have to kill the cats ourselves,’ said Phil.

‘And just how d’we kill them?’ Joe got up from the bed and started to pace the small room. ‘I mean, I know how you’d kill a normal cat, but one that’s made of fucking marzipan?’

Rohan looked up from the planets horrified. ‘Your mom would freak at your language.’

Joe stopped his pacing. ‘My mom is probably almond paste right now. I don’t think she’d fucking care.’

‘You’re such a grown up.’ Rohan pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.

‘Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.’ Joe continued his pacing.

‘Hey, c’mon, both of you.’ Phil stopped moving on the chair. ‘We have to eat them.’

‘What?’ Joe stopped pacing.

‘The cats,’ said Phil. ‘It said on the news, the only way they can be stopped is by eating them.’

‘Eating them?’ Rohan grimaced.

Joe held his hands up. ‘Can’t we just chop their heads off?’

‘If their heads are chopped off they just morph back together. Same if you squash them.’ Phil mimed squishing and growing with his hands. ‘They just go back into their cat shapes. Guessing it’s the same for the people too.’

‘I can’t eat people,’ said Joe, clasping his face with his hands.

Rohan wiped his hands down his thighs. ‘I can’t eat cats. I’m a vegetarian.’

‘It’s bloody marzipan. Without the blood. Perfectly vegan and fine for your religion.’ Phil twirled around in the chair to face Joe. ‘Just like eating the marzipan fruits your Auntie Gayle gives you at Christmas.’

‘Eating a non-moving marzipan apple the size of my thumb is a bit different to eating a full sized marzipan cat in attack mode. Or a relative,’ said Joe.

Phil stood up and walked across to Joe. ‘We can stun the cat, or person, first, by whacking them with something and then eat them quickly.’

‘Can you stun marzipan?’ Rohan asked.

Joe shrugged. ‘At least we won’t have to worry about finding food.’ He attempted to laugh but just made a snorting noise.

‘Maybe we can make a pact though.’ Phil patted Joe’s shoulder. ‘I don’t think any of us want to eat our own family.’

Rohan gasped. ‘No!’

‘Gross,’ said Joe.

Phil looked across at Rohan, then back to Joe. ‘So why don’t we agree that if we get in a ‘situation’ with family one of us others will deal with it.’

Rohan started to cry. ‘I can’t.’

Joe slunk over to the bed and sat next to Rohan. ‘Look Ro, I know it’s hard but we gotta pull together here.’

‘No, I mean I can’t. I can’t eat marzipan.’ Rohan stifled his sobs. ‘My diabetes. I haven’t got my insulin with me.’

‘Shit.’ Phil kicked the bookcase. He’d forgotten about Ro’s diabetes. Why didn’t he bring his insulin pen with him? Why did he have to think of everything all the time.

From the other side of the door there was a hiss of a cat. Phil leapt away from the bookcase and door and almost landed on Joe’s lap as he launched himself onto the bed. The cat started scratching at the door.

Joe gripped Rohan’s knee. ‘Christ, maybe it’ll go away?’

The scratching at the door continued.

Rohan swallowed hard. ‘How can marzipan make a scratching noise like that?’

Joe realized he was holding Rohan’s knee and let go. He frowned at Rohan. ‘I don’t know, shall we open up the door and find out?’

Rohan hugged his legs again and lowered his head.

‘Sorry Ro,’ said Joe. ‘I’m not feeling myself.’

Phil shuffled across the bed a little. ‘You’re looking a little yellow Joe. You feel sick?’

Joe shook his head. ‘No. Just a bit spaced. Like you? Don’t you feel spaced?’

‘Wired. I’m feeling wired. Not spaced.’ Phil turned his head to Rohan. ‘Ro?’

Rohan shook his head and edged away a few inches from Joe.

Phil stood up slowly. ‘You haven’t been bitten have you?’

‘No,’ said Joe. He stared at his laces.

Rohan slid off the bed and stood next to Phil. ‘Or scratched? You might not have felt a scratch while we were running over here.’

‘No, I’m fine.’ Joe clenched his hands.

‘You’re definitely more yellow now. Look.’ Phil pointed to Joe’s bare legs, not covered by his shorts.

‘It’s the light in here.’ Joe grabbed the pillow from the bed and tried to cover his legs.

‘Shit Joe, you’re turning, look at the scratch on your arm!’ Phil took a step back, bumping into the chair.

All three boys looked at Joe’s arm. It was definitely yellow. There was a gaping gash, about an inch long, and thick yellow pus paste oozed out from it below his sleeve.

‘No! Oh God no. Guys you have to help me!’ Joe cried as he stared at his changing body.

‘We can’t do anything,’ said Phil, gripping onto the back of the chair. ‘There’s no cure.’

‘Then you have to kill me.’ Joe stopped crying and sniffed. He held his arms out. ‘Eat me.’

‘Jeez Joe! You’re not fully turned! I can’t eat you.’ Phil grimaced.

Joe lowered his arm. ‘Ok. Well, get ready.’

‘I don’t think I can do this,’ said Phil. He sat in the chair shaking his head.

‘You have to,’ Joe pleaded. ‘Rohan can’t or he’ll go into a hypo.’

Rohan shifted slightly from side to side, sniffing.

Phil looked at his friends scared faces, he needed to keep their spirits up. ‘There are bits of you that I really don’t think I can eat.’ He nodded towards Joe’s crotch.

‘Christ Phil! You can’t leave just my wiener running around after people.’ Joe rubbed the pus paste into his arm as a bit more oozed out. ‘What kind of sicko does that.’

‘What kind of sicko eats your wiener!’ Phil made a snorting noise as he laughed and stifled a cry at the same time.

Joe laughed and wiped yellow tears away with his sticky fingers.

‘Can’t you just leave?’ Rohan mumbled. ‘You could eat that cat on your way out.’

‘Wow. Really finding out about my friends now.’ Joe smiled at Rohan.

Rohan limply smiled back. ‘It’s because I’m your friend I don’t want to eat you.’

Phil took a step closer to Joe. ‘C’mon Joe, take one for the team. I’d leave if it was me infected.’ He placed his hand gently on Joe’s shoulder. ‘I’d push you out the door but I don’t want my fingers sinking into your fat marzipan middle there.’

‘I’d eat you if it was the other way around numb nut.’ Joe stood up and stepped towards the door. ‘I’ll eat the cat, then run away from the house, draw any others away.’

Rohan wiped his eyes. ‘Thanks Joe.’

‘Sorry bud.’ Phil’s voice cracked.

Joe nodded. ‘Get ready to slam the door.’ He started to shove the bookcase out of the way but his thumb mushed into the wood. Sighing, he scraped it off, remolded it, and stuck it on his forehead. ‘Unicorns rule.’

Phil laughed. ‘Numb nut.’ He dragged the bookcase away from the door and held the door handle. He locked eyes with Joe. ‘Ready?’

Joe nodded and smiled at Phil and Rohan. Phil yanked the door open and Joe shot out, Phil slammed the door behind him. Phil leant against the door and closed his eyes. Rohan sat on the bed, leant forward, and held his head in his hands. Cat screeching and scuffling outside the door was agony to listen to. There was a final high pitched feline howl then the landing fell silent.

After minutes of stillness, Phil stopped leaning against the door and turned, pressing his ear up against it. ‘Joe? You still there?’

‘Yes,’ said Joe from behind the door.

Rohan lifted his head from his hands. ‘Why didn’t you run?’

Joe’s voice sounded muffled. ‘I don’t want to die out there on my own. I’m scared.’

‘He’s going to fully turn any minute.’ Rohan whispered to Phil.

Phil nodded, then talked to the door again. ‘Did you eat the cat?’

‘No. Well, I tried to eat it, but it’s very struggly. I ate its leg. It’s not happy with me. It’s just staring at me now. I’m sorry’

Phil placed his hand flat against the door. He would have probably stayed too. ‘I’m sorry too.’ He turned and looked at Rohan, and raised his eyebrows.

Rohan nodded and stood up from the bed. Phil slowly twisted the door handle and opened it.

Joe was sat on the floor, not only was his skin bright yellow but his hair had turned from dark brown to yellow chunky strands. His thumb was still on his forehead.

Phil opened the door wider. He could see an angry looking marzipan cat in a crouching attack position further along the landing. ‘Put your thumb back where it should be, I can’t take you seriously.’

‘If you’re going to be marzipan, we will too,’ said Rohan.

‘No you should stay safe.’ Joe shuffled to his feet, removing his thumb from his head and molding it back onto his hand. ‘I’m just being selfish.’

‘You’re not being selfish. You’re just scared like we are.’ Phil shrugged. ‘No one is safe. If we don’t have our families we only have each other, but if we don’t have each other what’s the point in hiding out.’

The cat rocketed itself through the doorway, hissing and lashing out in a frenzied Catherine Wheel of almond rage.

‘It got me!’ Rohan stumbled back rubbing his leg.

‘Me too,’ said Phil.

The cat limped back out on its three legs, its tail twitching like a caffeinated cobra. Joe shuffled into the room and slumped his sticky body onto the bed.

‘D’you think we’ll still know each other when we turn?’ asked Rohan. ‘You know, when our brains are marzipaned?’

‘Yeah, sure we will.’ Phil put his arm around Rohan. ‘Friends and numb nuts forever.’

Joe widened his mouth into a Joker’s grin. ‘Marzipan’s for life, not just for Christmas.’

Lockdown

Published April 13, 2020 by Naomi Rettig

Day 21
I don’t know why I’m writing this and I don’t know who I think will read it but I feel I must write something down in case something happens to me. I’m scared. Maybe I’ll be less scared if I keep a journal, I might read it back and say ‘Kelly you’re just being silly’. I have about thirty minutes a day to myself while he has a bath so I’ll write then.
This lockdown is making everyone stir crazy so I can’t blame him for what he does. It’s being stuck in here with me day after day, that’s enough to test the patience of anyone he says. I’ll hide this little notebook in the drawer with my sanitary towels, he never searches through that as he thinks it’s disgusting. I wish he wouldn’t say that. I wish we could be the way we used to be, at the start. I love him.

Day 22
He hit my face today. He’s never done that before. I guess with me not going out he’s not worried about anyone seeing the bruises. It’s always been my legs, stomach, back and arms, but today it feels like the first time. He loves me and he’s sorry. He’s always sorry. He says I make him hurt me. I wish I could make him happy. I’m frightened. I love him.

Day 23
More hits to my face today. I feel ashamed. I looked in the mirror and I felt ashamed. I’m trying my best but I don’t understand what I did wrong today. He said I looked ugly and I’d let myself go so maybe that’s why he was upset with me. My ribs are hurting too. I feel sick and don’t feel like eating. I’ll cook a roast tomorrow, he loves a roast dinner. I love him.

Day 24
The dinner wasn’t hot enough today so I had to eat mine off the floor, even though I wasn’t hungry. It was difficult to swallow it down with his foot on the back of my neck and while I was crying. I tried to stop crying as this just made him madder but I couldn’t. I try my best to be a good wife but I don’t know what to do. I cried when he made love to me. I love him.

Day 25
I’ve got cystitis. He couldn’t go to the chemist as there are too many sick people out there and I’d be endangering him so I asked if he could order something online but he told me that would be a waste of money. I complain too much. I didn’t want sex this morning but I didn’t complain. I love him.

Day 26
I don’t recognise myself. He shaved my head. There was a hair in his food so he shaved my head. I have black and bloodshot eyes, and no hair. I look disgusting. He’s right, no one else would want me. I don’t know what to do. I nearly phoned his mum but when I called her in September she told me that he was my husband and what did I expect. She would say the same now. I’m scared but I love him.

Day 27
I don’t think I can take much more, I can’t even bare to write down what he did to me last night. How can he love me and do that? I don’t know what to do. His family won’t help me, I’m not allowed to leave during this quarantine and even if I was I wouldn’t have anywhere to go. I haven’t spoken to my friends or family in so long, I wouldn’t know what to say. He says they all hate me anyway. I don’t want to cause problems for anyone else. I’m a disappointment to everyone. I’m going to try and search on his laptop for a refuge or someone I can talk to. I’ve got the landline but I don’t know any numbers, only 999 but it’s not an emergency. I don’t want to cause a fuss. I’ll wait for him to have his bath tomorrow and I’ll find a number. I’ll get help.

Day 29
Can hardly write. Think hands broken. Forgot to delete history. Made him so angry. Chest hurts. Everything hurts. Can’t see left eye. Phone ripped out. Laptop smashed up with my head. Got to get out. He’ll kill me if I stay. I’ll leave tomorrow bath time. Don’t know where. Need sleep now. Maybe I deserve this. Need help. He needs help. I love him. Why?

*****

(According to the Office of National Statistics about 4.2% of men and 7.9% of women suffered domestic abuse in England and Wales during 2018. This equates to about 685,000 male victims and 1,300,000 women. Murders related to domestic violence are at a five year high.
One in four women and one in six men will be affected by domestic abuse during their lives. On average 104 women and 30 men are murdered every year in England and Wales due to domestic violence.
On average domestic abuse victims will have been assaulted 68 times before reporting it to the police.)

National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247

Men’s Advice Line 0808 801 0327

My Cat Wants to Kill Me

Published March 29, 2020 by Naomi Rettig

My cat wants to kill me,
I know this is true.
He’s been plotting a while now,
His plans are not new.

He leapt on my shoulders
At the top of the stair,
Dug his claws in my neck
And mauled me like a bear.

I survived the steep fall
And he slunk away
Thinking of more evil ways
To get rid of his prey.

He opened my fridge
Threw up in my butter,
‘I hate you human’
I heard him mutter.

He pooped in my shoe
Just before I went out.
It was still warm and sticky,
My heart nearly gave out.

He smothered my face
While I tried to sleep,
Gasping for breath
I started to weep.

He lay under my bed
Waiting for my feet.
I walked past at speed
He pounced at fresh meat.

He drew blood with his claws
And sent me flying,
Now he’s licking his balls
While I lie here dying.

The Suicide Cat

Published December 9, 2019 by Naomi Rettig

Beth stood at the edge of the cliff, her eyes closed, listening to the waves thrashing against the rocks beneath her, feeling the wind slapping her, and whipping her hair across her face. Thirty-six years had culminated to this resolution. Thirty-six years of struggle and pain and feeling out of place. Thirty-six years of angst and self-torment. Even with her eyes closed, Beth could feel the moon shining a spotlight onto her. This was her moment, her final curtain call, time for that final bow.

She listened to those wonderful waves calling her name. About to take a step forward into the salty wet audience, she stopped herself. She listened again. It was definitely a cat meowing. Confused she opened her eyes and blinked to adjust to the moonlight. Taking a few steps back she turned around. Nothing. She could see the gorse bushes pushing against the wind, spiky warriors standing their ground, the blackness of the coast path in front of her, leading to inky blobs of rocks and boulders. It was ten o’clock on a deserted clifftop, her mind must be playing tricks on her, maybe as some cruel final encore. See, you are totally mad, jump off and disappear. A meow again, this time louder.

Beth peered into the darkness in the direction of the sound, still nothing.

‘Hello?’

Another louder meow was followed by two twinkling eyes materialising out from path in front of her. A black mini panther, the size of a domestic cat. The cat meowed again and slinked towards Beth, tail twitching in the air, stopping just in front of her.

Beth crouched down and held her hand out. ‘Hello. What are you doing up here?’

The cat cautiously approached her outstretched hand, sniffed, then rubbed his face against it. Beth scratched him under the chin and stroked his skinny body as it weaved around her hands.

‘You shouldn’t be up here, this wind will blow you off the cliff, you’ve got no weight on you, you silly thing. Do you live close by? Have you even got a home? What am I going to do with you?’ Beth continued her monologue of questions as the cat revelled in her attention and the wind played with her hair.

Beth stood up. ‘Well I can’t do this with you watching me. Do you want to come back with me?’

The cat meowed with perfect timing.

Beth smiled. ‘Just for one night though, I’ll postpone for one night. I’ve no more nights paid at the hotel so I’ll find you somewhere else to go in the morning. Deal?’

The cat meowed and rubbed against her legs.

‘Come on then.’ Beth started to trek back down the coast path towards the bay and the hotel. She glanced behind her, the cat was following her. She chatted to him as she navigated steep banks, slippery leaves and gnarled tree roots attempting to trip her. Every glance back was met with the vision of the black shadow with stars for eyes trotting after her.

Sneaking the cat into the hotel wasn’t a problem. Beth’s room was on the ground floor and there was a back door leading into her corridor from outside. Six stealthy feet scuttled along the corridor and into the room. After flopping onto the bed and partaking in strokes, head nudges and purrs, Beth called for room service, a tuna sandwich, a ham sandwich, and a chicken sandwich. The cat ate the contents of all three and lapped up water from a fine china saucer.

After a cleaning and grooming session the cat curled up next to Beth on the bed and slept soundly. Beth slept soundly for the first time in a long time too.

Beth observed the different shades of black fur on the cat as the morning sunlight seeped in through the curtains. Darkest brown tinges and indigo hues mingled in with the sleek tarry blackness. She felt calm and relaxed watching his belly move in and out contently and rhythmically with her breath. The cat yawned, opened his eyes slowly, and stretched his paw out into her chin, splaying his pads in a furry high five.

‘Good morning to you too.’

The cat licked his fur three times and stood up for a full body yoga stretch. Beth opened the curtains and made herself a coffee and the cat jumped off the bed, sitting knowingly by the patio door.

‘Time to go or do you just need the loo?’

Apparently it wasn’t time to go. After a toilet trip to the hotel flower beds the cat strolled back in for a wash before breakfast. Room service was ordered, extra sausage and extra bacon. Room service was eaten.

Beth’s suitcase was already packed. She’d packed it last night before going to the cliff top. She’d ask them to store her luggage for her until she decided on an altered plan of action. She dialled reception. ‘Hi, this is a strange question but is there anywhere on the island that rehomes cats or takes them in?…No, I found one this morning, I know pets aren’t allowed in rooms.’ She winked at the cat, the cat blinked back. ‘Oh ok, could you book me a taxi to take me there please?…Yes, as soon as possible…Thank you.’

‘I don’t take cats.’ The taxi driver shook his head to confirm this point. ‘They make a mess.’

Beth thought that was ironic considering he was wearing most of his breakfast remains on his sweatshirt, which was indeed sweaty too. ‘It’s my therapy cat. It’s for my anxiety. My disability cat.’

‘I don’t care if your leg has fallen off and your cat is carrying it, it’s not getting in my cab.’

The cat, in Beth’s arms, stretched his mouth wide in a yawn. Beth knew the cat was silently swearing at him. ‘But he’ll stay on my lap the whole time and it’s only a fifteen minute journey.’

‘No.’

‘I’ll pay you double the fare.’

‘Get in.’

The fifteen minute journey occurred in silence. The taxi tore through the tiny country lanes from the south of the island to the north. A fluffy bull, dangling from the rear view mirror, swung along to Coldplay. He’s trying to hang himself, thought Beth, having to put up with this mediocre droning. The cat sat happily on Beth’s lap. His left paw dangled over the edge of her leg and gently rested on the back seat. Beth smiled and whispered ‘rebel’ in her mind.

Beth paid the taxi driver but he drove off from the old farmhouse before she had time to ask him to wait. She kissed the top of the cat’s head and put him down on the driveway. Two chickens stuttered by in the background, the cat observed them casually while staying close to Beth’s legs, tail in the air, alert and wary.

A woman appeared in the garden to the side of the house, carrying a basket of washing. She was short, robust, with sparse spiky grey hair, wearing a blue shirt, jeans tucked into green wellies and a chunky cream cardigan. Beth would guess she was in her late fifties or early sixties.

‘Can I help you?’ Her voice was blunt and it didn’t sound like she wanted to help at all. She walked towards Beth, washing basket still in her arms.

‘Hello, yes, I hope so. I’ve got a cat.’

The woman stared down at the cat, then slowly back up to Beth. ‘Yes, you have.’

‘Well, it’s not really my cat, I found it last night, and it needs a home. The hotel I was staying at gave me your address.’

‘Oh they did, did they.’

‘Yes.’ Beth watched the woman, the cat watched a rogue chicken streak across the drive. Beth felt she was hostage negotiating. ‘I was hoping you could give the cat a home, or you might know someone who can.’

‘Why didn’t you just leave the cat where it was to wander back from where it came?’

‘It was on the top of Beauport Bay cliffs.’

‘At night.’

‘Yes.’

The woman’s face remained impassive. ‘You don’t live here on Jersey then.’

‘No, I was staying at L’horizon hotel.’

‘Was?’

‘It was my last night last night.’

The woman shifted the basket of washing to rest on her right hip and sniffed. ‘What time is your flight?’

‘My flight?’

‘You said it was your last night, are you flying home today? Where is home to you?’

Beth felt herself tense up, where is home seemed a more philosophical than geographical question. ‘Oh, I, um, I’m from Wales, I haven’t booked my flight yet.’

‘I see.’

Aware she was stood soldier-like Beth tried to relax her stance by shifting more of her weight to her left side, she fiddled distractedly with the strap of her bag across her body.

‘What’s your cat’s name?’

‘I don’t know, and it’s not my cat.’

The cat rubbed against Beth’s legs.

‘What’s your name? Or do you not know that either?’

‘Beth.’ Beth found herself in automatic soldier stance again.

‘Well Beth, my name is Susan. Not Sue, or Suzy, or Sooze. Clear?’

‘Um, yes.’

Susan turned and marched off towards the house. Beth and the cat stood side by side watching her.

‘Well don’t just stand there waiting for a bloody written invitation, and bring your shadow too.’

She disappeared through the door and Beth hesitantly followed her in, her shadow padding behind her.

The kitchen was cluttered with crockery, books, and plants, an assault of colours vied for Beth’s attention. An aroma of moth balls, dusty libraries and Deep Heat challenged her nostrils. A large hefty wooden table was in the centre of the room with various sizes of crocheted coasters and placemats of a kaleidoscope of colours scattered on it. Susan was filling a kettle by the cooker.

‘You can have tea from the pot with me or a coffee, only instant coffee though, I have no time to mess about with those silly plunger things.’

‘Instant coffee is fine, thanks.’

The kettle boiled, Susan clattered about with a teapot. ‘Sit down then.’

Beth sat on one of the wooden chairs, the cat jumped up on her lap, massaged her legs while he got comfortable then curled up.

‘And you think he’s not your cat?’

Beth smoothed his fur as he purred. ‘I can’t look after a cat.’

‘Nonsense.’ The teapot, wearing a green and yellow crocheted cosy, was plonked on the table, followed by a mug of coffee emblazoned with ‘I love Ibiza’, followed by a tin of malted milk biscuits.

‘Thank you.’ Beth glanced at her mug. She doubted that Susan had been to Ibiza.

Before she had chance to ask her, an elderly German Shepherd plodded into the room and over to Susan. Susan ruffled his head and smiled.

‘This is Jim. Jim, we have visitors.’

Beth was slightly taken aback by Susan’s smile, it transformed her face so much. She turned her head to the dog. ‘Hello Jim.’

Jim slowly walked to Beth and sniffed her leg and the cat. The cat opened his left eye and studied Jim’s large damp nose and inquisitive eyes. After a brief moment Jim turned and plodded back out of the room.

Susan delved into the biscuits and started to munch on one. ‘Do you like animals?’

‘Of course, I like them more than people.’ Beth looked up to meet Susan’s studying of her. ‘Sorry.’

‘Don’t be, animals are nicer than people, they don’t let you down or leave you.’ Susan pushed the biscuit tin towards Beth. ‘Don’t stand on ceremony.’

‘Thanks.’ Beth took a biscuit out and bit off half.

‘So if you leave your shadow here, what are you going to do next?’

Beth was glad she had a mouthful of biscuit to stall for an answer. She could hardly tell a complete stranger she would probably go throw herself of the cliff tonight. She shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’ Her shaky hands picked up her coffee and she was self consciously aware Susan had noticed this.

Susan slurped her tea. ‘Won’t anyone miss you?’

Beth’s hands gripped the mug handle tight. Had Susan read her mind? She stared into the abyss of coffee. ‘No.’

The following silence felt so deep to Beth, she had an urge to fill it. ‘I have no job, no family, no partner, no children, no friends, just a rented apartment full of dreams and regrets.’ Shocked at her honest revelation she shoved another half of a malted milk in her mouth to stop herself revealing anymore.

Susan nodded solemnly and slid the biscuit tin back towards herself, also taking another biscuit. ‘But now you have your shadow.’

Beth twitched a smile as she looked down at the sleeping cat, her eyes watered. She brushed off an escaped tear and desperately tried to swallow down the remainder of her biscuit without choking.

Susan swigged more tea and topped up her cup from the pot. ‘Do you have bags? A suitcase?’

‘Oh, yes, my suitcase is in storage at the hotel.’

Susan nodded. ‘We’ll go get it after lunch. You can stay in one of my spare rooms. It’s not fancy but it’s got a comfy bed, wallpaper, and a nice wardrobe.’

‘Oh, I couldn’t stay here.’

‘Why not? Are you a thief, a murderer or an arsonist?’

‘No.’

‘No I thought not, so you can stay. Until you decide what you and Shadow are going to do next.’ Susan nodded towards the cat. ‘He thinks you’re someone worth hanging around for, that’s good enough for me.’

‘But, I wouldn’t want to put you out.’

‘You won’t be, I’m not offering you the swanky hotel services you’ve been used to. A bed and board for you both in return for helping me look after the animals here in the kennels. Again, not a hotel, so you’ll eat what I cook for myself or cook and clean up after yourself if you don’t like my cooking.’

Beth realised she’d been holding her breath and exhaled deeply. ‘That’s really kind of you.’

‘Not being kind, I’m using you for cheap labour, my arthritis is playing up and you’ve come along at the right time.’

Beth looked down at Shadow on her lap, then back up to Susan. ‘Yes, I think I have.’

Suggestions for my Doctor’s surgery suggestion box

Published February 17, 2019 by Naomi Rettig

Sat waiting for my diabetic review at the doctors, and waiting, and waiting, I spot their suggestion box. So after nearly an hour past my appointment time I thought I’d amuse myself. The following is what will greet the practice manager when she opens the suggestion box.

1. The waiting room needs to be renamed ‘The Executive Lounge’ for starters. Calling it the waiting room is setting the scene for misery and gloom and low expectations. It would be more uplifting to be told ‘take a seat in the executive lounge’ when you check in.

2. When using the self-service check in system it can leave an anxious patient anxious when they sit down, wondering if they completed all the stages correctly. I suggest the machine be programmed with a fanfare to be played loudly if completed correctly. Maybe a burst of confetti for the 100th correct user.

3. The waiting room/executive lounge can get quite tedious when waiting for any length of time. Even though your information slides are informative they are mind numbingly boring on repeat for an hour. I realise a TV licence is an extravagant expense, and fraught with its own problems (I might want to watch This Morning, another patient might prefer Homes Under the Hammer) so how about hiring out mini DVD players with headphones for a small fee. You could profit from patients’ boredom and patients would be less cranky if kept waiting. If not DVD players, then how about just headphones for hire with a selection of music. Patients could have their own little silent discos or classical calm. Music therapy. The headphones could vibrate when the patient is called through, but if I’m jiggling to a bouncy track I would leave them on while sashaying along the corridor.

4. Heated flooring in the nurse’s rooms would be lovely. When you have to take your shoes and socks off for diabetic foot testing it can be a bit chilly in winter. This isn’t a diva request, I have dainty, delicate, size 9, diabetic feet. If this is too much expense a fluffy bath mat could be a substitute.

5. Waiting in the executive lounge would be improved with food and drink. I would like coffee but some of the other patients I saw I wouldn’t trust with a hot beverage, so I think you’d have to play it safe with a water cooler. Food wise it would have to be something healthy too, yawn, so maybe fruit and nuts. Maybe just fruit as too many people have nut allergies these days. Actually, scrap this suggestion as an apple and a glass of water sounds too much like a minimalist still life set up.

6. Thinking of painting, a little bit of art therapy in the executive lounge would be good while people wait. But again, having seen a lot of the other patients I wouldn’t trust them with crayons let alone squidgy paint.

7. Lava lamps. Calming and therapeutic. I suggest you have a plethora of lava lamps placed around the executive lounge. The other surgery in town has a fish tank which is calming to watch, except when children tap on the glass, that increases anxiety, of the fish and myself. Thus, lava lamps would be a good distraction for anxious patients, inquisitive children, and people who like watching blobs bob up and down.

I hope these suggestions help.

Hurtling Down

Published September 12, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

I’ve hit self-destruct and my time is oozing out,
I want my head to shush but all it does is shout,
Self-loathing vile thoughts are all that I hear,
I fear that my brain will crank up a gear.
I see light and love, but I deflect it away,
I am a plane crashing down without a Mayday.
My heart is anaesthetised to numb the dull pain
But I long to feel a healing love once again.
I need someone to assemble my cracked pieces
Before this intensity of thought increases,
But I can’t let people in to my scrambled mess
When trying to love myself brings such distress.
I need someone to hold me but that’s out of reach,
A black cloud sucks life from me like a famished leech

Orange Juice is not a Starter (my two week hospital vacation)

Published June 28, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

I can think of better ways to spend a fortnight, beach holiday, city break, meditation retreat, chilling out at home, but no, my body thought it would like a two week stay in Neville Hall hospital battling acute pancreatitis. No warning, no niggly little pains leading up to it, just full on ‘one of my internal organs is about to explode’ pain in my abdomen at 5 am on the morning of the royal wedding.

I don’t remember the ambulance journey or arriving in A&E but I was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis and admitted to a ward, my home/prison for the next two weeks. Now, of course I am grateful for being looked after and mended by the NHS, and I do have a few positive things to say, but my overall experience was horrendous. I heard someone say ‘I’m in the best place’, that was a lie, a better place would have been the Nuffield private hospital in Hereford, but I don’t have private health insurance so I was stuck in the National Hellth System.

I’ll get my negative experiences out of the way first. Some are trivial but when I’m in extreme pain and coping with sleep deprivation my mind upgrades everything to ‘end of the world’ status. I vomited a lot during my stay, violent ‘let’s have a look at your stomach lining’ vomiting, it looked like swamp water and smelled much worse. Now I don’t expect nurses to come and hold my hand or rub my back whilst being sick, but no one ever came to check if I was ok, one of my fellow inmates rang her buzzer one night at 3am informing the nurse that came that I was being sick (it was truly like a scene of the Exorcist) only to be told ‘she has a bowl’ then walking away. An hour later I buzzed to ask if someone could remove the sick bowl from my table as the stench wasn’t nice for the others in my room to have to inhale. This request was responded to with an irritated sigh, as were most requests.

Urine collection was another bug bear of mine. My urine output had to be monitored and having the choice between having a catheter fitted or weeing into a cardboard bedpan for the nurses, I chose the latter. The idea was you’d take the bedpan to the toilet with you, use that, then hand it to a nurse to measure and record the amount. Straightforward. Well it would have been if you could either find a nurse at the nurses’ station, or you could interrupt their chatting and catch their attention if they were there. How they couldn’t spot me waiting most of the time I don’t know, I looked like the ghost of Christmas past lurking in front of them. Thus, I would leave my bedpan of urine on the desk top if there was no one there and get told off. I wasn’t just leaving it there to be a rebel or annoy people though, walking to the toilet was such an effort I’d be about to pass out so leaving the bedpan on the counter and collapsing back into bed was preferable to passing out at the nurses’ station and my urine ending up all over the floor with me. When I did try and explain why I’d left it, I got told to leave it on the toilet. That’s not practical when at least seven other patients are using that toilet, I didn’t want anyone else’s urine topping up my measurements. ‘Can I give you this please’ I said to one nurse, ‘what am I supposed to do with that?’ she asked me in an accusatory manner. ‘Measure it and record it on my chart at the end of my bed.’ Jeez. Why ask the patient what you’re doing?

Suppository in the dark was another lowlight for me. I was on morphine hourly but when that wasn’t working for my pain I could have a diclofenac suppository, which worked well for me as it knocked me out. One time at 3.30am I buzzed for one of these, I got one of the miserable nurses who went off to get it with grumpy sigh. If you choose to be a nurse and you choose to work nights, don’t take it out on the patients. She came back with the suppository and the attitude. I curled up into position. ‘Your light’s not working’ she complained to me. I don’t know where she was expecting me to produce a light bulb from. More sighing ensued followed by the unwrapping of the suppository. ‘Wrong place!’ I quickly said. ‘I know’ she growled. If she bloody knew, why was she trying to shove it in the wrong slot?! ‘I’m going to have to put the main light on now’ she hissed. The main lights went on, fluorescent tubes pinging into life and lighting up the room like a football stadium. Hallelujah, I got my pain relief. Did she turn the main light back off? No. Now I know she didn’t just forget to, it was nearly 4am and the rest of the bays on the ward were in darkness. I presume she left it on in spite, but I was out of it in about 15 mins thanks to the diclofenac, so it was only my three fellow inmates that suffered from the bright light torture.

Lack of sleep, quality sleep, doesn’t sit well with my body or my mind. I’m sure a lot of my delusions, hallucinations, and unbalanced thoughts I had in there was not helped by the lack of sleep. I know it’s pretty much impossible to get sleep in hospital, it’s a hospital not a luxury spa resort, if you’re not throwing up or writhing in pain yourself you’re having to listen to the others in your room do so. One thing that really annoyed me though was being woken at 7am every day (when having only just managed to doze back off after much vomiting, pain, and having IV antibiotics plugged into me at 5am) just so the auxiliary staff could make my bed.

Now for patients that could get up and about, I kind of understand the need for a routine of get up and sit in your chair. But for patients like me who were too ill to do so and were staying in bed I failed to see the point. It was bad enough having the curtains flung open and being scorched by sunlight like an ancient vampire, and bad enough having two overly cheery valleys ladies chatting about their night out while they did so, without the shrill screech of ‘c’mon ladies get out of your beds so we can make them’ every morning. I’m not a morning person anyway even with a good nights’ sleep, can you tell?

I did challenge the one auxiliary one day. As I stayed in bed rebelling against the order, I asked, ‘Why? As soon as you make it I’m going to be getting straight back into it.’ To which I got the reply, ‘because it’s my job to make the beds every morning’. What a jobsworth.

When she finished making my bed, and not even changing sheets, just tucking the sheet and blanket in, she would raise the bed to its highest setting in an attempt to stop me getting back in. ‘You need to sit in the chair for breakfast,’ she’d say. ‘I’m nil by mouth,’ I’d remind her while stroppily yanking the blanket and sheet off my bed.

Another bug bare was at wash time. The auxiliaries would come around and ask who needed a bowl of water to wash with and who was going to the shower. I’d request a bowl of water, and every day the same annoying woman would say ‘why don’t you have a shower?’ and every day I’d reply, ‘because I feel like I’m about to vomit and faint, I’m in pain, and I have a cannula in my foot that makes it awkward and painful to walk, and I don’t want to risk knocking it as I have collapsing veins.’ She’d then reluctantly bring me a luke warm bowl of water.

‘Quiet time’ was good and bad. According to one of the doctors that came to find one of my veins during a ‘quiet time’ session we were the only ward in the hospital that had it. Basically, ‘quiet time’ was an enforced afternoon nap. After lunch the curtains would be closed, and the lights switched off. Anyone not already in bed would be told to get into bed. Now the nice part was getting some extra sleep, although as my bed was nearest the nurses’ station I often lay there having to listen to details of their holidays as the nurses chatted all the way through ‘quiet time’. The bad part of ‘quiet time’ was being woken abruptly two hours later by the lights going on and the curtains flung open. I would feel groggy and grumpy and can totally sympathise with toddlers being woken from nap time.

The thing that made upset me the most was something very trivial. I was nil by mouth to start with for a few days, then I was on fluids only. The only fluid items on the menu were fruit juice and soup, so for two days I had that. On the third day of fruit juice and soup my tray arrived with only soup. At first I thought the juice had been forgotten, until I checked my menu I’d ticked the boxes on. Someone had written ‘you can only choose one item from the starters’ with the word one underlined.

I was immediately annoyed. Firstly, I could read that rule but as I was only having those two items and not ticking anything from main, main accompaniments, desserts, dessert accompaniments, I thought common sense would indicate that I wasn’t being greedy wanting two starters but that’s all I could manage. The person plating up the previous days obviously had common sense. I was even more indignant due to the patient next to me having a tray so full of food they had difficulty fitting it all on. She’d come in late and was out of it, so a nurse had ticked everything as she didn’t know what she’d like. So, there was Becky (not her real name) having an all you can eat buffet banquet while I had four tablespoons of parsnip and rosemary soup looking sorry for itself in lonely abandonment on my tray.

My second main gripe was, and still is, that fruit juice is not a starter, it’s a beverage. It was a starter in the seventies, when I was seven years old on the rare occasions my family ate out, orange juice was on the menu as a starter, and that was thought quite exciting and exotic. But thirty-nine years later culinary notions have changed, is orange juice listed as a starter in any eatery these days? I protested by sending the menu sheet back with my tray with my reply added to the note: ‘fruit juice is not a starter unless you are still living in the 1970’s’. It probably didn’t get back to the person who had originally written it but it made me feel better in a petty way.

There was a lovely catering lady though, in fact all the catering staff that gave out the food were brilliant, but one lady was really kind to me. She knew I was on fluids only and I enjoyed the orange juice so she would give me an extra juice when serving tea and coffee. I wasn’t being greedy, I wasn’t having tea or coffee. This little act of kindness made a big difference. Also, the evening tea lady remembered that I liked a little cup of milk instead of a hot drink, that felt so nice that someone would remember that rather than just seeing us as bodies in beds.

The best random act of kindness made me cry. And again it’s quite trivial talking about it now but at the time it overwhelmed me. When I was allowed solids, I’d been violently sick at tea time so couldn’t eat my food (not pleasant for the others having to listen to me while trying to eat theirs). A couple of hours later when my anti-sickness tablets kicked in I was feeling hungry, quite a rarity for me in hospital. I asked one of the nurses if there was a spare yogurt or something left over from tea time. She said she’d have a look but doubted it. She came back and said that everything had been taken back down, I thanked her for looking and then she did the most wonderful thing. She offered to make me a piece of toast from the nurses’ staff room if I wanted.

Now to lots of people someone making you a piece of toast is not a big deal, but I was so low and demoralized in hospital that this lovely nurse making me a piece of toast when she didn’t have to was such a lovely act of kindness it brought me to tears. She probably would’nt even remember doing this but for me it will stay in my memory banks in the feely good section. Best slice of toast ever.

The hospital food makes it into my positive section. If I ate it now it might be different, but when you haven’t eaten for days food tastes so delicious. I think one of the catering staff thought I was taking the micky for a couple of days. On eating soup for the first time I told her that it was the best soup ever. Then the four mouthfuls of mashed potato I had was the best mashed potato ever. She thought I was being sarcastic as it was dry and lumpy but to me at the time it did taste like the best mash ever. When she realised I was being serious every day she would join in, ‘best omelette ever?’ she’d ask with knowing look. I’d smile and say, ‘oh yes.’ These were the rare occasions I smiled in hospital, when being treated like an individual human being.

There were four nurses too over my fortnight in there that were brilliant and treated everyone as individuals and not just bodies in beds. I only wish they could be cloned and replaced with the majority that need to rethink their career choices.

Another positive was the wonderful anesthetic doctors that could get needles into my veins. I have stealth veins. They don’t like to show themselves and if caught they collapse and disappear again quite quickly. Hence during my two weeks hooked up to the various IV drips I had cannulas in both crooks of my arms, both wrists, both backs of my hands, and both feet numerous times. For someone needle phobic with anxiety this is a complete nightmare, but there were three wonderful doctors that would be paged when a vein collapsed, and a new cannula had to go in. I called them team amazing as these three would get needles in me when many others couldn’t. I never thought I’d be grateful for someone getting needles into my veins, but I heard someone say I had a good vein in my neck, so I was very grateful they managed to avoid that.

Being incredibly ill in hospital and thinking you might not make it back out puts life into perspective. The consultant told me the acute pancreatitis wasn’t due to my poor diet, but I don’t believe that. Before hospital I was binge eating sugary food, despite my type 2 diabetes diagnosis fifteen months ago. I’d been living in denial and didn’t care about myself or my body. I hadn’t told my family I had diabetes, the first they knew about it was when the paramedic was in my room asking if I had any medical conditions.

I had time to take stock of my life while in hospital and how I was treating my body. Whether or not I had contributed to my pancreatitis by neglect of health, I decided that I never wanted to go into hospital again, and if avoiding that meant I needed to overhaul my eating habits and make my body as healthy as I could, then that’s what I’d do. It was like a switch had been flicked.

I’m now only eating natural healthy foods. I’m a vegetarian, and have been for 40 years, but now I no longer eat processed foods, fried foods, pizza, cakes, biscuits, sweets etc. Basically, if it’s not nutritionally good for my body – it doesn’t go in. I no longer want my body to be a bouncy castle, I’m transforming it into a temple of wellness. It’s going to take a while to undo all the abuse I’ve inflicted over the years but eating healthily is having some good side effects already. I lost two stone during my two weeks in hospital and since then I’ve lost another half a stone, not by following any diet, but just by eating natural healthy food. I’ve turned into a preacher of gut microbes, read up on them if you don’t know much about them, they’re the key to good health!

So, while there were memorable good moments that were outweighed by my bad moment memories, I’m counting my whole experience as a positive. Acute pancreatitis might have actually saved my life.

Five Ways I Didn’t Kill Myself in Hospital

Published June 21, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

(WARNING – even though humorous, I do talk about suicide, avoid if this is a trigger for you.)

I mentally broke on day five in hospital. I was in extreme pain and constantly vomiting, I wasn’t improving and felt like that was how I’d spend the rest of my remaining days. If euthanasia was on offer I’d have taken it. I did ask a nurse for this service and got the reply ‘I’ll bring my gun in tomorrow.’ She obviously thought I was joking and played along. Now the pain has gone I’m glad there wasn’t that option available to me, but in my despair and delirium I was trying to figure out a way to kill myself.

My first thought was jump out of the window. But as I was only on floor two and the windows only opened six inches I had to rule that out. I’m not that skinny and a fall from two floors would only result in a sprained ankle. Realistically, I reasoned with myself, I’d need a fall from sixteen floors to die. The hospital only had five or six floors, I couldn’t remember which, so that would probably result in just a broken leg, if my fat suit didn’t break my fall completely. Aha, I thought, I’ll dive off the fifth/sixth floor head first with my arms by my side, that should do it. Feeling smug I remembered that I was struggling to walk the ten steps to the toilet and back, so trying to navigate my way to the roof was a non-starter. Drat.

My next idea was to save up the liquid morphine I was allowed hourly and overdose. I was given it in little plastic measuring cups and they didn’t watch me drink it, so it was doable. I had a bottle of Fruit Shoot next to my bed and I thought if I drank all of that I could tip my shots of morphine into there until it was full. Great idea. Except I would have to stay in even more pain if I wasn’t taking the morphine hourly, and Fruit Shoot bottles aren’t exactly big, so even if I drank a bottle full of morphine sulphate, without vomiting, I’d probably only make myself extremely woozy. Drat.

I observed the drugs trolley closely when it came around. Being a pharmacy dispenser I know which drugs which drugs will cause the most damage and kill me. I’ll grab some from the trolley and use those I thought. But the trolley was never unattended long enough for me to pull off a heist. Drat.

Watching a nurse use a syringe to inject anti-emetics into my IV, I had an idea which I thought was my best chance. I could inject an air bubble into my vein trough a cannula and bingo, it would travel up to my heart and kill me. I was ready to swoop on any forgotten syringe that got left behind, but unfortunately/fortunately for me this never happened. Drat.

My final idea was the least likely to work out, but by this time my brain was clutching at straws. My boss is a pharmacist and I had the genius idea that he could come and visit me, bringing drugs in with him to finish me off. But there were too many flaws in this plan. While it would solve my problem, it would no doubt be traced back to him and his visit and he’d lose his business and go to prison. I’m quite proud of myself that I was unselfish even in pain and didn’t want him to get into trouble for me. Although I had thought about how I could get my life insurance policy changed, to him being the beneficiary, so I could bribe him with that to do it. It was only because I knew he’d want more than the eighty thousand pay out to endure a prison sentence that I abandoned exploring that option more. Drat.

I happy to report that now I’m recovering at home I’m glad that none of my options were feasible, and I’m glad that I’m still here on the planet. In fact, I’m so glad and grateful that I am, I’m finally taking control of looking after my health, so I can avoid ever going to a hospital ever again.

But, I am increasing my life insurance policy, just in case.

How Not to Behave at a CT Scan

Published June 18, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

While in hospital I had a CT scan, or CGI scan as I kept calling it. I’ve had one in the past, but this time it took place when I was off my head which resulted in the 5% of my aware brain being totally embarrassed by 95% of me.

I’d been out of it all morning leading up to the scan, my anxiety had shot up to maximum levels at the thought of the claustrophobic scanner, I was on a lot of morphine for the pain, and my temperature was high, which always distorts my brain. I didn’t realise that the combo of all this would result in me losing all filters in my brain and not knowing when to shut up.

It was a strange experience, instead of just thinking my thoughts, they were all coming out via my mouth, and even though the tiny reasonable part of my brain was listening and telling me to stop talking, I couldn’t. I had no control of my mouth, even though I could see peoples facial reactions to me. I’m sure most of them thought I was a complete loon. I certainly did.

It started when the porter, Steve, arrived at the ward to take me for the scan.

‘Are you my taxi driver?’

He humoured me. ‘I am, jump in.’

‘I haven’t got any cash to pay you.’

‘Don’t worry, I’ve switched the meter off.’ What a good sport.

I climbed into the wheelchair and he attempted to put a blanket across my lap. ‘I don’t need that, I’m far too hot.’

‘I was thinking of your modesty.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about that, everyone has seen everything before.’ I can assure you everyone hasn’t seen everything of me and I was wearing a nightie that went down to my ankles. We set off. ‘Is it far? I don’t fancy a long journey today.’

I was assured it was just down one floor in the lift then straight into the scanning rooms. And it was. It was a busy day as when we arrived in the waiting area there were three neat rows of people in wheelchairs, about nine ahead of me. Steve parked me in the front row.

‘Are we going to watch a drive-in movie?’ I asked loudly. I should point out too that because I’d been nil by mouth all morning, for the scan, my mouth and lips were like cotton wool so I was slurring my words due to my tongue trying to cling like a limpet to every surface in my mouth.

Steve said we weren’t watching a movie and went to inform the scanners I was there. The scan lady came out to find me slumped over (I felt like I was going to pass out in the heat), she got me to sit back in the wheelchair and felt my forehead looking concerned.

I indicated to the room on the right, ‘I don’t want to go in that room as it sounds like a 3D printer and I’m not looking my best today, can I come back another day when I look more presentable.’

Deciding I was delirious with the temperature the scan lady upgraded me to going in next. ‘I’ll just go and load her details into the machine’, she said to Steve.

He said he had to go and pick someone else up, I waved cheerily goodbye to him.

The scan lady asked a paramedic, who was with their own patient two rows back, to stand with me to keep an eye on me while she popped back into the room. The paramedic lady did this reluctantly, she tried not to make eye contact with me. I asked her if she had a slush puppy she could plug into my cannula in my arm to cool me down. She just said no and remained looking ahead. I then told her my slush puppy flavour order of preference. I didn’t know I had an order of preference.

The scan lady came back out and wheeled me into the room where there was another scan lady waiting, the paramedic went back to her own patient with relief. The scan room was heavenly. It was so cold.

‘You have the best room in the hospital’ I told them, although they probably knew that already.

They asked me to lie on the scanner bed. ‘Ooh look! I’m coordinated!’ The runner on the scan bed was purple and so was my nighty. I explained that I wasn’t drunk, it was because my mouth was so dry that I was talking a bit funny. They relaxed a bit.

I led down, and the one lady asked me to put my hands above my head. I did. ‘Am I going hang gliding?!’

‘No, I’ going to inject dye into your veins to we can see everything on the scan much easier.’

‘I’d prefer to go hang gliding.’ I don’t think I would, I don’t like heights, or flying.

Now I kept amazingly still during the scan. But that’s because I had reached maximum capacity anxiety and had therefore disassociated my mind from my body, it doesn’t happen often, and I can’t control it at will so it’s not a great party trick. When I emerged from the scan however I came out of my trance and continued sharing my thoughts with the two ladies. ‘That was great! I felt the dye going through all my veins down my arms to my abdomen and I pretended I had been struck by lightning and was turning into a superhero.’

‘Oh, that’s different, no one has told us that before,’ one of them laughed.

‘And then the whooshy fast stuff was like NASA space training.’ There was no whooshy fast stuff, but my brain thought there was. ‘Although I must disclose I have never done NASA space training, so It’s what I imagine NASA space training to be.’

After more laughing from the ladies, they asked if I could sit up unaided. I wasn’t sure. They asked how I’d get out of bed normally, sit upright then swing my legs out or swing my legs out as I sit up? This seemed like the most difficult question in the world. I’ve never thought about how I get out of bed before. ‘I don’t know, move me like a Lego figure and put me where you want me.’ They did. ‘Can I stay with you for the afternoon, you’re the best and your room is so lovely and cold.’

‘We’d love to let you stay all afternoon, you’ve made our day, but they need you back up on the ward.’

‘A superhero’s work is never done.’

I was wheeled back out to wait for Steve. ‘I highly recommend going in there,’ I told the glum crowd. ‘It’s the most fun you’ll have all day.’ Steve took me back up to the ward. My three other inmates were in bed as it was ‘quiet time’ (more about that in another blog).

As I entered our room the girl in the next bed whispered to me ‘how did the scan go?’

‘It was great! I did hang gliding and space stuff.’

She looked at me confused. ‘Oh, you’d better have a lie down then.’

I got into bed and fell straight asleep, dreaming of what kind of superhero I’d be.

Hospital Hallucinations, Visions, and Delusions.

Published June 17, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

While in hospital I had the most vivid hallucinations that were scary, unnerving, and downright freaky. For three whole days I thought I had lost my mind and was expecting to get transferred to the psych ward at any moment. Then in a moment of clarity I asked the nurse what antibiotics were in my IV drip. Metronidazole. Of course. I had these in tablet form from a dentist once and I saw a Zulu warrior sat on my sofa, and a grapefruit dancing in my bedroom. I stopped taking them and made a mental note not to take these ever again. Unfortunately, when being admitted to hospital and asked what I was allergic to I had only mentioned penicillin. I was kept on metronidazole for another day until my consultant switched them for a different variety, gentamicin. So, I’m blaming the antibiotics, but it could have been that combined with the morphine I was on, and the temperature I had distorting my brain too.

If you’ve never hallucinated it’s scary as you can see things that aren’t there, and no matter how much you tell yourself it’s just your brain playing tricks, because you can see it so clearly you can’t convince yourself it’s just a mirage. I can’t remember all my hallucinations but here are the ones that I can. It would have been freaky enough to dream these, but to see them was terrifying.

Dancing biscuits. My fellow inmates and nurses were witness to me shouting ‘make the biscuits stop dancing’. Embarrassing to look back on, but at the time I’d been tormented by a five-foot custard cream and a five-foot pink wafer with arms and legs dancing, jazz style, next to my bed for hours. Every time I opened my eyes they were there, grinning at me, dancing. They weren’t nice friendly grins, I found them darkly menacing.

Velcro Bryan Ferry. I opened my eyes and the hospital walls and ceiling were covered in Velcro. Bryan Ferry popped up in a bright yellow Velcro suit and proceeded to sing ‘Let’s Stick Together’ whilst flinging himself to the walls and ceiling. When I ignored him, a bed appeared to the right of me (there was no bed on my right-hand side) covered in Velcro and he wrapped himself around the bed in 2D flattened style, still singing. I had to whisper ‘not now Bryan’ to make him stop. He then sat on the bed that wasn’t there with his back to me and kept looking slyly over his shoulder at me to make sure I was watching him.

Eight grim reapers. At one point I opened my eyes to see not one but eight figures in black hooded cloaks gathered around my bed. This seemed like such a revelation that there was more than one grim reaper. I shouted ‘There’s more than one! Everyone has it wrong, there are loads of them!’ plus ‘That’s so unfair, eight of them and one of me, I don’t stand a chance.’ Goodness knows what people must have thought I was looking at.

Headless patients. Looking around the room and seeing the other three patients minus their heads made me physically vomit. (I was vomiting a lot though, so my stomach didn’t take a lot of persuading to purge itself again). Two were sleeping minus their heads, the third was flicking through a magazine with her hands, but there was just a neck stump, no head.

The scariest hallucinations though were ordinary people stood in front of me, talking to me, that weren’t there. There was a lady with short hair in an orange and blue horizontally striped jumper that I found particularly creepy, she would talk to me about her dead children then stare at me. I did wonder at one point if I was doing a ‘Sixth Sense’ and seeing dead people.

I have never experienced audio hallucinations before. I now have. I hear voices in my head most of the time, but I ‘hear’ those with my mind as a running commentary, as I guess do most people. But I’ve never heard things externally with my ears that weren’t there, so I didn’t realise it wasn’t genuine at first. There was a lady in bed three whose hearing aid kept whistling. When she fiddled with it trying to tune it in it played Jingle Bells. ‘What kind of warped person buys an elderly relative a hearing aid that plays Jingle Bells’ I thought to myself. This happened a few times. I was cussing whoever bought it for her. It was only when the hearing aid started to play Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, in its high-pitched tinny sound, that I realised my brain was messing with me.

Other auditory hallucinations included hearing people say my name and start talking to me, except when I opened my eyes there was no one there. And I could hear a rock station on a radio. I thought it was the woman in the next bed listening to the radio, quietly but not quietly enough, and for a couple of days I was thinking ‘why can’t she put headphones like the rest of us’. I then realised it wasn’t her (she checked out of hospital and it was still playing), it was my brain playing tricks on me again. It was so weird though, I could clearly hear the host introducing artists, new rock music, and I could hear this music and lyrics I’d never heard before so clearly. I can’t remember any of the songs now but at the time of ‘hearing’ them they were all new to me. I wish I could remember them so I could write them down and sell them on to musicians and make a fortune.

As well as hallucinations I had delusions. Only a few thank goodness. I was convinced one of the catering staff was a cyborg. She walked down the corridor exactly like Robert Patrick in ‘Terminator 2’ and as she walked past my room her eyes scanned in, with a slight movement of her head, just like the T2. That was enough for me, my brain told me she was a cyborg, I believed it. I wouldn’t make eye contact with her or I’d pretend to be asleep when she came around. I also believed we were all being given drugs via our drips that were keeping us sleepy and docile, and that the hospital was a front for top secret experiments on our bodies. Whenever I woke up I would scan my body for any signs of unauthorised incisions.

The visions I had were both terrifying and amazing. When I closed my eyes to escape the hallucinations I had visions. No escape from my brain. The inside of my eyelids became a film screen and I was shown weird and wonderful images by my mind. The horrific images my brain showed me were so repulsive I’ve buried them in a filing cabinet never to be talked about, I’ll just say I was disgusted I could create vile images that make ‘The Human Centipede’ look like ‘The Teletubbies’.

There were weird images, that felt like psychic images. I could see the bottom half of a body buried in mud, blue denim jeans, brown boots and a brown satchel type bag buried with, but that was all, then my mind would flicker onto another vision. There was an exquisitely animated film that made me cry as it was so beautifully shot. It was a Swedish girl in the woods, and the animals she lived with and the music was so haunting. They were made of a weird clay type pottery and painted in muted colours, and it was stop go animation. I can’t remember much more now about the story, but at the time it made me weep with joy.

There was a story of two blue and yellow birds that were unseeable by human eye, they lived in human noses, one in each nostril. They were soulmates paired for life but would never see each other as they couldn’t leave their respective nostrils as their jobs were to protect the nose from invaders like pollen, bugs, germs etc. The birds were the happiest creatures, even though they couldn’t see each other they would tweet to each other through the nasal cavities and just knowing the other was there was enough for them. They had such a pure love for each other it was beautiful. They’re names were Geoffrey and Viola.

My brain made a complete Disney animated movie called ‘Vegas to Alaska’. There were four Alaskan Malamute dogs (Montana, Iowa, Utah, and Vegas) that performed in a Las Vegas show. They weren’t mistreated but had a working dogs life, having lived there performing in shows all their lives. Due to animal shows getting less customers they were dropped from the bill and the owner was selling them on. Three sold quickly but no one wanted to buy Vegas, he had been born with one ear and couldn’t bark/talk like the other dogs. The owner was due to fly to Florida, so he gave Vegas away to a random stranger, Ben. Ben had stopped in Las Vegas on route home to Alaska and had lost his dad’s money gambling. He was feeling such a loser but couldn’t say no to taking Vegas home with him.

The film followed their bonding trip in Ben’s red pick-up truck from Las Vegas to Alaska, Vegas taking pure joy from simple things like riding in a vehicle with his head out the window and feeling a breeze on his face, something he’d never experienced before. It was basically a love story between man and dog, about learning to trust, learning to value the small stuff, and learning to love life. I enjoyed it.

A short film that played in my head was a beautiful love story starring Tom Hardy. He played a man, finding out his sister had been mistakenly switched at birth. He only found this out when he’s contacted by his birth sister’s ‘brother’ explaining she needs a kidney. Reluctantly he agrees to visit her in the hospital and when he meets her he agrees to donate, telling her ‘I will always be a part of you and we will go on magical adventures.’ They fall in love, but not a sexual love, a pure love of humanness. They move in together and are inseparable, they make everyday life into wonderful adventures, but then she is stabbed in a random petrol station robbery and dies in his arms. It was called ‘The Day my Kidney Died’.

A comforting vision I had was a huge belly of a monster hovering above my bed, it was peach coloured and furry, with an outie belly button. But the belly button opened like a lid and inside was a fluffy baby monster curled up. I climbed in and the lid closed, and I snuggled with the fluffy baby monster. It was lovely.

There was so much more that played in my head but unfortunately I can’t remember anything else. I was too out of it to write it all down at the time, a Dictaphone would have helped but I didn’t think to ask my mum to bring one in for me. ‘Can you bring toiletries, spare nighties, and a Dictaphone in case I hallucinate.’ Mental note – buy a Dictaphone and carry it with me always.

And while I’m glad I escaped and left my hospital hallucinations behind, the creative part of me would like to have some of the visions return, maybe with an on/off switch. Oh, and yes, I do feel bad that I left my fellow patients to the mercy of a cyborg.