Royal Hobart Habattoir Part V – The Stroke

The Trial

Friday Night

I awoke in what was obviously a moving vehicle. Someone was calling my name and asking me questions. I answered the voice, but whoever was speaking couldn’t hear what I was saying. I could hear my responses, but he couldn’t. I wrinkled my brow and he asked me to signal if I could understand what he said. I did and commenced signing words using the sign language Roland, Neil and myself had learned as teenagers. He said he couldn’t understand sign language. After some frustrating exchanges limited by the yes/no format, he handed me a clipboard to write on.

Our communication improved somewhat, but the jolting of the vehicle made writing difficult. He explained that I had suffered a stroke. From time to time, he tested the strength of my limbs, flashed a light in my eyes and it was clear that my left arm and leg were considerably weaker than usual. Mainly I dozed on the way to the hospital and wondered how debilitating my new condition would be. I had intended to finish the woodshed extension on this weekend.

At the hospital, I was subjected to much the same requests and manipulation of my arms, legs, hands and feet. At some point, I also had my head inserted into a scanner of some description. Later, I was told that the brain scan indicated that something had occurred in my brain, presumably a blood clot. Sometime during the ensuing few hours, my ability to speak returned. Every time I dozed off, there was another voice waking me up to ask the same interminable questions. I remember thinking how stupid they must be to not remember what I’d said five minutes ago.


Eventually I fell asleep; briefly. I returned to wakefulness as if trying to swim through cold molasses. The voice calling my name was strident and I obeyed the commands hoping the voice would go away. I tried to explain that I was very tired, and I was finding it extremely difficult to stay awake, but the voice didn’t seem to care.

Suddenly, a loud, piercing, urgent and shrill beeping kind of noise started up. It hurt my ears and made understanding what was being said to me impossible. I asked for the noise to be stopped and a very loud female voice yelled at me that there was no need to swear; there were children and ladies present. This made me very angry and I said that if they shut the stupid sound off there would be no need for me to swear. The female voice said that I had made the noise by bending my arm. I pointed out that I had bent my arm because that was what the doctor had told me to do. Female voice continued to berate me and making a concerted effort, I stood up.

I said as firmly as I could that I was not prepared to put up with what they were doing to me and that I was leaving. Unfortunately, I no longer had any clothes other than my trousers, underpants and socks. Another female, who seemed somewhat more rational than the previous two, told me I was free to go. But go where, in the small hours of a cold Hobart morning? If I was patient, rational voice said, there was a bed reserved for me and I would be able to sleep. As badly frightened as I was, I did my best to calm down. Being told that my wife was on her way helped.

Someone tried to get me to take some Lipitor. The heart specialist had told me that when I was prescribed this drug by the hospital that it was irrational to prescribe anti-cholesterol drugs when the patient had normal cholesterol levels and an excellent ratio of HDL to LDLs. Following his advice, I had stopped taking it and the short-term memory problem I had been experiencing went away. Why, I asked myself, do they want me to lose my short-term memory? It couldn’t possibly be for atherosclerosis since a recent angiogram had shown my arteries to be squeaky clean.

Eventually, Marguerite turned up with my clothes. My recollection of the next few hours is very blurry. I had been awake for over 24 hours and every time I started to fall asleep I was awakened.[1] Presumably, whatever had happened in my brain was also taking its toll.

I was given a barely edible lunch. I asked if I could have some cheese, but was told no, I had to eat what I was given. I asked the nurse for my meds: anti-hypertensive for my blood pressure, beta blocker for my heart condition and NSAID for my osteoarthritis. I was told that they hadn’t arrived from the pharmacy. I pointed out that my wife had brought them in with her and they had been taken away from me. Nothing doing.

A doctor came to see me and subjected me to the same limb manipulations and shining of lights in my eyes as everybody else. I tried to explain how I was feeling, but she didn’t want to know. I was particularly anxious about not being allowed to take my meds. My GP had told me it was very bad juju to miss my anti-hypertensive and beta blocker. The hospital doctor said I could have Tramadol for the pain. I asked if I could go across the road at lunch time. My favourite Chinese restaurant has recently relocated there and they serve excellent food. Under no circumstances was I to leave the hospital she told me. She also told me that I might not have had a stroke after all, but a seizure. When I later told a nurse that she had said this, the nurse said that only an idiot would believe that. “Look at your face”, I was told. When I looked in a mirror, my left eyelid and the left side of my mouth were drooping. I used my phone to do a bit of Googling on the internet and that confirmed the nurse’s diagnosis. I could find nothing about those symptoms in conjunction with seizures.

Later in the day, the physiotherapist came to see me. He was the first person I had conversed with (apart from my wife) who seemed to have any sympathy for my plight. He relieved a lot of my anxiety. He had me walk about for some minutes and announced that I was fine to walk wherever I wanted to go. When I told him of my desire to have a seafood Laksa at Dumpling World he said it would do me the world of good, so that was where I had lunch with my wife. I told him what had been happening to me and how badly I felt. He said he would have the Grievance Officer see me on Monday.

When I returned to the hospital, I asked about my meds and was told that they still hadn’t arrived from the pharmacy. Again I was told that they didn’t want me taking my own meds since “providing free meds is hospital policy”. When I said that this was contrary to my GP’s advice, I was told that GPs don’t know what they are talking about. I was given a Tramadol. It killed the physical pain, but the side effects, a gone-away feeling in the stomach and dizziness, increased my feelings of anxiety. I noticed that when the nurses did the obs that my blood pressure was increasing. I wondered why, if I had suffered a stroke, weren’t they doing anything to control my blood pressure, or allowing me to take my meds that would?

At dinner time (a sorry affair that was largely inedible), I managed to eventually prevail on a nurse to allow me to take my anti-hypertensive and beta blocker, but not the NSAID for my arthritis. The nurse who did this agreed that I should take the essential meds next around the middle of the following day before returning to the usual early morning routine.

I resolved to talk to my sister (a highly qualified nurse specialising in neurology). She later confirms my impressions and suggests I fly to Melbourne and she will ensure that I receive appropriate medical treatment.


Breakfast was dry toast and water. Prisoner number 102045065 could have had jam, instant coffee, apple juice, sugar (lots and lots of that), cornflakes, milk… I asked if there was cheese and was told no. They are definitely in favour of Type II diabetes around here. Reading the obverse of tomorrow’s menu confirms that. They recommend lots of high GI food, rather than protein and fat. I could have drunk the tea, but the water provided was tepid and the tea made from it undrinkable.

Somewhat to my surprise, I was given my NSAID! The morning obs have my systolic blood pressure at 190! I was told not to worry about it; “it’s only a little bit high”. Why are they treating me as if I’m some kind of idiot? Isn’t anything over 180 extremely dangerous?[2] Is it not the case that high blood pressure is a primary factor in provoking strokes? My anxiety levels have gone through the roof along with my blood pressure. My confidence in the medical abilities of these people has plummeted through the floor. I am dismayed and frightened.

Marguerite and I went to Dumpling World for lunch. I had seafood, rice and fresh, stir-fried vegetables; delicious. We decide that it’s probably best to let the doctors do their tests, just in case they are correct that I have had a seizure, rather than a stroke.

After lunch, I asked for my meds. It wasn’t until some hours after lunch that the nurses finally accede to my requests. So much for taking them with food!


The nurse won’t let me have my NSAID because it’s the “wrong dose”. I explain it has to be the correct dose since the drugs being given to me are those prescribed by my GP and provided by me. Apparently the hospital doctor disagrees with my GP. The “correct” dose is 100mg rather than 1,000mg so I can’t have one. She does give me my antihypertensive and beta blocker. And yet more Tramadol. She returns later and gives me my NSAID; my GP had apparently prescribed the correct dose after all. But now I’m off my face on bloody Tramadol. Why anyone would take hypnotics for recreation is beyond me. I feel dizzy, faint and can barely think straight. My stomach performs flip-flops and tears roll uncontrollably down my cheeks. I feel very depressed.

Late morning a female doctor (not the same one as before) arrives with a young male intern. I attempt to explain how I’m feeling, but they don’t want to know. She says what happened on the weekend had nothing to do with her! She berates me for leaving the hospital on my walks and for taking Tramadol. I point out that I didn’t want to take Tramadol; it was given to me instead of the NSAID that I wanted to take. She says it’s depressing the threshold for having a seizure. Now I feel even worse than earlier. I can barely understand what she is saying to me. All I can think of is getting the tests over and done with so I can go home and have a nice hot bath.

They move me to another ward. We go through a door that locks behind us. I ask about this and the nurse tells me that it’s to keep people in for their own good. I ask why I am being put here and she says that it was the only spare bed. I sit on the edge of the bed and recall that there was a list called “spare beds” on a display in the neurological ward where I was before; there seemed to be quite a few spare beds. This is not the neurological ward and I am a neurological patient. Presumably I need neurological nurses, not nurses who specialise in dealing with patients who need to be locked in. I go to the nurse at reception and query what is happening. I am told that unlike the other patients, I am free to leave whenever I wish. All I have to do is press the button at the side of the door and the door will be opened for me. I return to the room they had shown me, collect my belongings and return to reception. I ask for my meds. The nurse tells me that they are not my meds; they belong to the hospital. Now I am really panicking and go to the locked door. I press the button, but the door remains locked. I press the button several times, but the door does not unlock.

I phone my wife and try to tell her what’s happening. I suspect I am incoherent; I’m now so badly frightened I can’t stop shaking. Marguerite agrees to rescue me as soon as possible.

When Marguerite arrives, one of the nurses explains that yes, I am free to leave any time I want. So why won’t they let me leave if I am free to leave? I need to sign a consent form. So where is the form? I want to sign it. We are told that we have to wait until a doctor arrives with it. We wait, interminably it seems to me, but in truth “only” two or three hours. One of the patients approaches us and says, quietly, that if I want to get out, I need to calm down. If I remain in my current state they are just as likely to get a couple of heavies to come and “deal with” me. I breathe slowly and deeply and suddenly recall some sage advice I received from a friend some years ago.

I take a pen and some paper from my bag and approach one of the nurses. “By what Authority are you holding me?” I ask. The nurse looks startled and says he will have to find another nurse to answer my question. The other nurse, when he arrives, seems just as startled when I ask the same question: “By what Authority are you holding me?” He goes to the telephone yet again and this time the doctor arrives within a few minutes. I sign the form and Marguerite asks, yet again, for my meds. I explain that since they are mostly as yet unopened packages, I cannot have the prescriptions filled until I have used a sufficient amount. After a brief delay, my meds are returned to us and we beat a hasty retreat.

It’s not every day that you get to play the lead part in a Franz Kafka novel, albeit one Kafka never got around to writing. I wouldn’t recommend it; not even to my worst enemy.

[1] Sleep deprivation is a cause of brain seizure as noted by the CIA in an instruction book on torture.

[2] “Medication Is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY To Prevent Heart Attack and Stroke”

In the sick room, ten cents’ worth of human understanding equals ten dollars’ worth of medical science. — Martin H. Fischer

Physicians and politicians resemble one another in this respect, that some defend the constitution and others destroy it. — Anonymous

The doctor is often more to be feared than the disease. – French Proverb

It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a hospital that it should do the sick no harm. — Florence Nightingale


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