The Rag Doll Man
Damn Jordan. There he goes again, whining and wailing like all the world's pains were in him and him alone. Why will he not be quiet?
I've told him. I've said, ‘Look, Jordan. You haven't got it half as bad as you think. You're not in pain. You're not dying or about to become a vegetable.
With our help and a little luck, there's no reason you can't live to a ripe old age.’
His self-pity disgusts me.
In the morning, I'll wheel him around the hospital. Give him a dose of reality. I'll show him the little boys and girls whose days are spent in chemotherapy, whose daily routine consists of one injection after another.
I'll let him taste their pain -- real pain. And then he can chat with the parents who know that their little Tommy or Sarah has but months to live.
But would it do any good? There are people who will never accept their lot in life. They feel the universe should bend to their will, cater to their every need. Jordan is such a person.
There's not a mark on him. He can breathe without difficulty. He can talk, cry, shit, and even smile if only he'd give it a try.
Clinically, there is nothing wrong with Jordan. Except, of course, he's not all there.
Now when I say Jordan's not all there, I'm not referring to his mental state.
I am saying that various parts of his anatomy have mysteriously disappeared. But don't go pitying the man. I'm not certain, but somehow I feel he's brought it all upon himself. And whether or not he is the agent of his own misfortune, there is a certain justice to his condition.
I could conceivably forgive Jordan his arrogance, his lack of fortitude and maybe even his insistence on occupying one of our precious beds when he could be looked after at home. But I cannot -- and will not -- forgive the man his occupation.
Jordan is a vivisectionist.
Here we have a man who makes a living by cutting up bunny rabbits and puppy dogs -- and now something's been taking chunks out of him. If ever there was an irony fit to be savored, this is it.
I wonder how he feels about his job now. Does he dream of mice poisoned by lipstick, of kittens with fractured legs, disembowelled guinea pigs, rhesus monkeys restrained by leather straps as lethal volts course through their skulls? Is he haunted by the ghosts of all the small, furry creatures he has tortured and killed? And are his victims sitting in Animal Heaven, rejoicing to see their tormentor getting a taste of his own medicine?
There he goes again, crying, ‘Nurse! Nurse!,’ like a baby with a sore bottom. He probably wants his brow mopped or spittle wiped from his chin. I could attend to it, but I won't. I've been meaning to write these notes for some time, and I'm determined to get them done before I finish my shift.
Now Jordan's sobbing -- boo hoo, boo hoo -- and he's making no effort to keep his misery to himself. I'm working down the corridor in the Senior Orderly's office with the door shut, but I can still hear him whimpering. The spineless jerk.
Spineless! Ha. Ha. That's rather good for five in the morning. You see, Jordan no longer has a spine. It disappeared a few days ago, just after he'd noticed that his left ear was gone. And he thought things were bad when he lost his foot! That was the week before last. I remember it quite well.
Staff shortages, cash crises and the general mismanagement that is commonplace in British hospitals these days had left the Casualty Department desperately understaffed.
In deference to my seniority, I had a little cubicle all to myself. It was a standard examination room -- white walls, a bed, sink, mirror. Medicine cabinet.
All cleverly contrived to afford the patients as little dignity as possible.
‘Doctor? Could you see this chap?’ A student nurse. She'd probably been pretty when she'd started her shift but fourteen hours and an endless stream of wounded humanity had taken its toll.
I took the white card she proffered. ‘Let's see. What do we have here? An amputee?’
‘He says he lost his foot during the night.’
‘How did he manage that?’
‘He doesn't know. Apparently he woke up and just found it gone.’
‘Isn't there an old blues song about that?’
‘Search me, Doctor. I'm not a blues fan.’
‘You'd better send him in.’
‘And one more thing...’
‘Contrary to appearances, I'm not a Doctor. I'm a surgeon. You should address me as Mr. Coombes.’
The first time I set eyes on Jordan, I disliked him with the sort of intensity I generally reserve for football referees and traffic wardens. He had one of those smug, know-it-all faces that seem in constant search of a good hard punch.
It was clear he had dressed in either a hurry or something of a daze. His jacket did not match his trousers and the one shoe he had on was left untied.
To be honest, he was no sooner in my cubicle than I wanted him out. I was gripped by an irrational desire to see him wheeled down to the basement and thrown in the incinerator. Let him burn alongside the discarded dressings and contaminated needles...
The nurse and an orderly helped Jordan onto the bed. He did nothing to assist -- just stared into space and dribbled like an imbecile.
‘What happened?’ I asked as the nurse and orderly trooped out.
‘Foot,’ he mumbled. ‘Gone.’
A quick examination uncovered no signs of violence. He was not concussed, had no contusions or abrasions or anything that need concern a surgeon at two in the morning. That he had no left foot was beyond denial, but why make a song and dance about it now? The skin covering the end of his stump was normal tissue. There was no sign of scarring, no hint of trauma.
‘Mr. Jordan,’ I said to him. ‘You haven't lost your left foot. You never had one in the first place.’
‘Left foot. Gone.’
I came to a quick prognosis. Mr. Jordan was suffering from amnesia and had forgotten his disability. Or else he was in denial. Either way, his problems should not be ours.
I tried to get the Mental Health people to take him, but they were having none of it.
I wanted to send Jordan home, but that idiot of a Registrar insisted we keep him under observation for a couple of days.
The wards were all full -- except the ones kept closed for lack of money -- so Jordan landed himself a private room.
And that, I thought, would be the last I ever saw of him. But it was not to be. Halfway through my next shift, I was summoned to his room. A nurse and a doctor whose name I can't remember were frowning at a clipboard. Mr. Jordan looked to be asleep. The nurse said he'd been sedated.
‘Had to do it,’ announced the doctor with such gravity you'd have thought he'd just had the patient put down. ‘The chap was hysterical.’
‘Well,’ I said. ‘That confirms my original diagnosis. This man is off his rocker.’
The doctor pursed his lips and thrust his hands into the pockets of his white coat. ‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘Maybe not.’
‘There's some doubt?’
‘Yes, Mr. Coombes. That's why we sent for you. Perhaps you could tell us how many feet Mr. Jordan had when you admitted him?’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Of course I'm sure. Despite appearances to the contrary, I am a highly skilled surgeon. You're not trying to tell me that the other one's grown back, are you?’
Like a magician reaching the climax of a masterful illusion, the doctor pulled back the bedclothes. It was, I'll admit, an impressive denouement. ‘Well?’ said the Doctor.
For once in my life, I was speechless. Jordan now had no feet at all.
Strictly speaking, it wasn't my case. But I was curious, so I used my seniority to ensure I was kept up to date with developments. Despite my busy schedule, I popped in to see Jordan whenever time allowed, and we soon developed a healthy enmity toward each other.
You may think my attitude toward Jordan is unprofessional, but I really don't care. As far as I'm concerned, the Jordans of this world cannot suffer enough.
On one occasion, I came across a rather attractive woman standing by his bed and I knew instinctively she was not his wife.
‘Mrs. Jordan?’ I asked, pushing the door shut behind me.
Jordan sat up on his elbows. ‘Piss off, Coombes.’
‘Not Mrs. Jordan, then? Your sister perhaps?’
The lady (if I may call her that) reddened. ‘I think I had best be off.’
She left without saying goodbye.
Jordan snarled like a dog caught in barbed wire. ‘One of these days, I'm going to kill you, Coombes!’
‘With no hands?’ A cruel jibe, but he deserved it. His left hand had disappeared a couple of nights after he'd been admitted. The right followed suit a few days later.
He is a truly remarkable phenomenon -- the greatest medical freak since the Elephant Man.
What will the papers call him when they finally cotton to the story? Perhaps the Rag Doll Man? That seems appropriate. Tug on his leg. Rip! Off it comes.
No blood. No gore. Pull off his arm. Pluck out his eye.
Even under a magnifying glass, Mr. Jordan's skin looks immaculate. There is nothing to indicate it has in any way been torn or breached and no reason to suppose the missing parts of his anatomy ever existed. Tests indicate nothing in the least remarkable about Jordan's metabolism. His blood chemicals are the same as yours and mine. His cells are 100 percent human.
I sat down on the edge of his bed. ‘Your mistress?’
‘None of your damned business.’ His anger suddenly evaporated, and he began to cry. ‘You've got to help me, Doctor. Please!’
‘Actually,’ I told him, ‘I'm a surgeon. You shouldn't call me Doctor.’
For all his faults, Mr. Jordan does have a certain entertainment value. Take for instance last week, when the orderlies ran a sweepstakes on which part of Mr. Jordan would go next. I put in for three tickets and ended up with his nose, navel and left buttock.
And I think the situation got to me, because I went home with my tickets and did a peculiar thing.
An old issue of the Lancet provided two views of the human male -- front and back. I cut these out and placed them on the desk in my study. At midnight, I surrounded the pictures with lighted candles and recited a litany of body parts in Latin. I took a corkscrew and punched a hole in Jordan's face and pierced his navel. And then I cut off his left buttock.
This short but poignant ceremony closed with my lottery slips being baptised in ether.
I'm no magician, but I believe I made some mighty juju that night.
The next time I saw Jordan, his girlfriend had returned. I did not like her any more than I liked Jordan. Less so now that I had met Jordan's charming wife.
‘So,’ I said, smiling like the Grim Reaper. ‘Lost any more knick-knacks lately?’
Jordan treated me to a look that could have frozen nitrogen. His mistress made a show of studying her well-manicured nails.
‘No,’ said Jordan, with an edge of triumph in his voice.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Have you checked?’
‘Piss off, Coombes. I don't need to check. And I don't need you coming round here making smart-arsed comments. I'm a very sick man, you know.’
‘You're not the least bit sick,’ I countered. ‘In fact, you're a sight healthier than you deserve to be. By the way -- do you still have a belly button?’
‘Yes, thank you.’
‘And your todger?’ A low blow, I'll admit. Especially with his mistress there. But he was asking for it.
‘Listen, Coombes,’ hissed Jordan. ‘I want you to stay out of this room and the hell away from me. Do you hear?’
‘Loud and clear. But when your pecker does disappear, don't expect me to graft on a new one for you.’
His mistress decided it was her turn to vent some spleen. ‘People like you shouldn't be allowed to practice medicine. I've a good mind to report you to the BMA -- ‘
And on and on, but I wasn't listening. I was watching Jordan out of the corner of my eye. Surreptitiously, he was exploring beneath his bedclothes with the end of his arms. When he reached his groin, the blood drained from his face.
His eyes widened, then closed. Jordan muttered a silent prayer. Another fumble. He grimaced and then plucked up the courage to look under the bedclothes. His hysterical screams told me that I had not won the sweepstakes, but I was not in the least disappointed. My day had been made.
I came second in the sweepstakes. Jordan's navel disappeared a few hours after his manhood, which left me twenty-five pounds richer. His torso followed this morning -- but not before I'd photographed it for prosperity.
I have the photo in front of me now. Jordan looks like the top half of a tailor's dummy. He has no arms, no legs. One of his nipples is missing. His skin is smooth and unblemished. His muscle tone is perfect.
I am reminded of the Venus de Milo.
Jordan will not scream again. He has been silenced forever. Which is not to say that he is dead -- oh no. There's still plenty of life in those baby-blue eyes. But now fate has rendered him all but mute by taking away his larynx.
This may be a bitter blow to the patient, but for the rest of us it is a mercy long overdue.
I checked on him just now. He lay there and blew raspberries at me. But I got my own back.
I told him he had two hours to live, which of course was a lie.
The blood drained from his face -- to where, I have no idea -- and he fainted.
It was the perfect opportunity to settle the Jordan problem once and for all. There's no reason why a mere head should take up a whole bed, is there? As soon as I can find a big enough box and some straw, I'll make him a nice, comfy home. I might even buy a few gerbils to keep him company. Until then, he'll be safe enough in the linen cupboard.
I'll be glad when this shift is over.