Friday, 1 April 2011

One month post-op - torpedoed, on fire, listing, but still afloat, and I will get to port

My Dad did his wartime service in the Eighth Army - the one that fought in North Africa, that was with Monty at El Alamein, that went on into Libya, and then ground its slow way up through Italy. He wasn't a front-line soldier: he was in the bit that kept things organised, so that they had guns and shells and bullets and lorries and tins of bully beef and dry socks and officers and NCOs to cheer the men up with. He followed behind the gun-toting heroes, who might turn up at ten in the morning, give Jerry what-for, and then have a brew-up. And scarcely would the smoke have cleared but it was lunchtime, and Dad would have arrived and was organising Something Essential - not lunch itself, but maybe the logistics of Moving On A Few More Miles Before Nightfall. All the Colonels he worked under thought well of him.

Anyway, as I said, he was an army man. So it was always intriguing that so much of what Dad liked to read centred on the sea, and service in the Royal Navy. I have before me now a typical book of what you might call long short stories by a man called Nicholas Monsarrat. Monsarrat was a post-war author, not much read now I dare say, who did not confine his attention to the sea, but was best known for stories to do with it, such as The Cruel Sea, which was turned into a famous 1953 film starring Jack Hawkins and several others well-known to British audiences half a century back. Here is the Wikipedia link for the film. On the night Dad died, one of the books open next to him was by Douglas Reeman, another notable sea author, and it was Dad who introduced me to Horatio Hornblower, the renowned creation of C S  Forester.

One of the stories in the 'typical book' mentioned above is called HMS Marlborough Will Enter Harbour. It tells the tale of a Captain's first and only love, the ship he served on when young, when the Marlborough was new; and how, many years later, she became his command. How he turned down better ships to become master of this one; how he made sure she had all the latest gadgets and weapons; how he loved her with a possession that excluded all rivals. And yet, how he threw her unflinching into the way of all that war could do to her. For she was a fighting ship, a platform for guns and depth charges, a place from which men sent out missiles of fire and destruction in the service of their country; and while she lived she must take all the punishment offered, while hitting back hard. 

The story in fact begins with a one-to-one duel with a submarine. Both vessels inflict dreadful damage on each other. The sub sinks with all hands. The Marlborough is left crippled and defenceless somewhere off the north west coast of Scotland, almost sinking, though not quite. The Captain has lost more than half his crew in an explosion forward. We feel the bitterness as news trickles through of who is alive, and who not, some of them friends, all of them essential to the proper running of the ship. All is smoke and noise and confusion. And then the Captain sits in his seat on the shattered bridge, and at once calmness radiates out to all. The Captain has taken charge. Now an assessment of their chances can begin, whether to abandon ship, or, inconceivably, hold on; and maybe, just maybe, pull the old Marlborough together, and somehow get her back to port. All sorts of temporary substitutions and promotions are arranged, giving a chance for men to show their mettle. The horrendous physical damage is judged to be, strictly speaking, too great for safety. But the Captain will not give his lifelong love up to the sea, and by dint of devotion and seamanship, and an admiring crew, he eventually gets the stricken Marlborough back to Londonderry Harbour to be patched up and fight again. Hardly recognisable as the ship she had been: a tangle of burnt metal, with a cargo of stinking corpses, manned by frail men animated by a Captain of steel, who would not sleep until his love, and those men, were safe in port.

One passage in that story always made me cry, and still does. The Captain was the only executive officer left in the ship, and had to stay alert; and he carried all the responsibility. He had been discussing matters with his servant Bridger, over yet another cup of cocoa.

There was much more that the Captain wanted to ask: did they [the crew] really think Marlborough would get in: were they still confident in his judgment, after all these days and nights of blundering along: did they trust him absolutely? - questions he would never even have thought of, save in a light-headed hunger for reassurance. But suddenly Bridger said:
''They hope you're getting enough sleep sir!''
Then he sucked in his breath, as though discovered in some appalling breach of discipline, took the cup from the top of the compass and quickly left the bridge. Alone once more, the Captain smiled tautly at the most moving thing that had ever been said to him, and settled back in his chair to take up the watch again. He wasn't  getting enough sleep, but the fact that the ship's company realized this, and wished him well over it, was as sustaining and comforting as a strong arm round his shoulders.

And if you fully understand that passage, then you understand me. A little bit anyway. 

One month post-op. And I'm not healed, not by a long way, and that's dismaying. It's hard to accept. I can rationalise it, but something inside me still rebels against my discomfort, all the swelling there is, and those suture lines that continue to hurt. I'm a ship that's been wounded. Yes, my body's defences have been thrown into the breach without restraint. But they can't deal with everything at once. Nevertheless, the fires are mostly out, and some of the lesser problems can be turned to now. Then I must limp to my home port. 

One of the minor things was an infection of the urinary tract. I first suspected it two weeks ago. It was tested for last week, and today I have finally begun the course of tablets that will deal with it. I had to reject the first tablets because one of the ingredients could have provoked an allergic reaction, as with the laxative, and I didn't want a repetiton of that.

And I can report a new stage reached: I have moved on - experimentally - from towels to panty liners, with a slight increase in comfort. Only slight, though!

And do I feel all girly and sexy? What do you think? It's not even a fair question yet. I think it will become a very pertinent question to which I will in due course blithely answer. But not just now. The war is not yet won. It's still blood, sweat and tears. 


  1. I can only make one comment such as 'the apple did not fall far from the tree concerning organisation'.

  2. Blood, toil,, sweat, and tears, I believe. :)

    Did no one warn you that it will take several months to heal, and indeed a year to heal fully? I felt OK at the end of one, much better at the end of two, and finally ready for real life at the end of three. You'll get there. But you must be patient! And make sure to allow yourself time to heal.

    I must meet you someday. I have a feeling we are not much alike, but on the evidence of your writing, you are a fascinating person. And I get along just fine with people who are unlike me, because there is so much more to learn about them!

    Courage, ma chère!

  3. @Ariel:
    Oh, I 'knew' well enough that full recovery might easily take six months, and in fact resumption of my caravanning trips was always going to be deferred till September. This frustration is an emotional thing. I want to be healed. I know why I can't yet be, but it doesn't stop me fretting.

    As you say, I must be patient!

    I'm flattered that you'd think me worth a meeting. But I'm sure I'm better in words than in person!


  4. This is tough and to be doing it all alone...

    Every admiration and for being so forthright with your observations.

    Caroline xx

  5. I understand. I am an impatient patient myself. Somehow I got into a more patient mode for this particular healing process, but I still wanted it to go more quickly.

    I'm sure you're well worth meeting in person!

  6. I get the impression from your writings, that you are a very extroverted woman, and that unlike me, you are not happy when you have to spend extended periods alone. Are there friends nearby, that you could invite to visit you, maybe even to stay for a few days at a time?

    I'm not surprised that you are still low on energy only one month post op. I have seen videos of the entire operation, and you have some very major trauma to overcome. Based on what I saw, Ariel's statement saying it takes a full year to completely heal, is very believable.

    Melissa XX

  7. @Melissa:
    I'm afraid you misread me. I'm a complete loner, and although I like to meet people and maintain a strong network of friends, I wouldn't want my space invaded. Which of course is a paradox! How can you both like people and indeed take an interest in the world, and yet want to keep it all at arm's length? But I suspect I'm by no means unique.

    Certainly my recovery days are made much easier by facing them on my own. I have medical backup on call, and my shopping is sorted. All I need. My prime business is rest. And one day all that resting will pay dividends.


  8. I understand you more than you may think Lucy, because I too like to explore the world, and it's wonders, at least graphically, yet keep it all at arm's length. I am a lioness when it comes to defending my personal space. So I can certainly respect that.

    Melissa XX


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