He drifted in a pool of body warm fluid, listing to one side like a branch caught in a slow river current…
His world was noiseless and sightless, an embryo gestating over time.
His skull was a sheet of translucent rice paper, rolled out and intricately folded – up on itself like the inside of a sea shell.
His veiny tubular organs pulsed and throbbed with delicate life and his limbs were mere buds of tissue that only hinted at his future humanity.
Over the months he grew stronger until he was forced out into the dry, technical, brightly lit air of the hospital. Gasping and gurning he drew breath and began to fight for his place inthe world.
Over the coming months he would learn how to control his head, to sit up, to identify his parents, to mumble noises of contentment or displeasure, to control his bowel and his bladder. With time he was able to take a few tentative steps, to smile, to balance, to grasp objects in his external world and to feed himself.
Slowly, slivers of the world began to make sense and rather than a disjointed kaleidoscope they formed a coherent whole. His babbling became recognisable words and his parents beamed with pride, their eyes moistening with tears.
Now upright and walking he reflected back on his journey.
His journey had not been through infancy and childhood but through a long process of rehab. So many months before, on the dusty plains of Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device had torn hot metal through his young limbs and head. He had been medivacked to Selly Oak hospital and from there to the Defence Rehab Centre at Headley Court.
Standing now, at the cusp of the hospital, a proud but sightless amputee, he represents for us all the unquenchable restorative powers of the self.
Written in response to the leading article in the BMJ 27/2/10 issue ‘Long road to recovery‘. Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen.
Through the K hole – credit HaPe Gera, Flickr