WARNING: This blog and the next one, are sometimes explicit in language so, if you are of a sensitive nature, you might want to skip them and wait for the blog after that. I fear however, that you will miss some interesting stuff!

As for the rest of you, I am glad you are staying with me so, let’s get on with it.

The ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ defines “dignity” as:  a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect; the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect.  Merriam Webster Dictionary has a slight variation on the theme by defining “dignity” as: the quality or state of being  worthy, honoured, or esteemed.

The type of dignity I have in mind is not the attitude assumed by certain people in public positions such as religious figures or heads of states, who represent positions of authority or power, where the dignity in this case, is really an assumption of aura that comes as a package with the position/office, rather than the person’s own sense of him/herself.

The dignity I am talking about is closer to the first definition of the Oxford English Dictionary “a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect”.  For me, dignity is the sense that we, as individuals, gradually develop over time in order to define our core sense of values and the standards by which we wish to be treated, behave and be seen to behave by others.  It has nothing to do with our age, employment, financial worth, positions of power, or our fame/ celebrity.  Very often, we refer to humble people as being ‘quietly dignified’ without necessarily having these false or irrelevant and temporarily acquired coats of dignity such as authority, wealth or fame.

Ok, you are bored with this lecture; I understand.  Those of you who got the idea about ‘Dignity’ can now go to Class 2 for the next lecture, which will start shortly.  Yes, I know, you had enough lessons for one day and want to cut to the main theme of this blog but, please bear with me for a few more minutes; I promise not to disappoint you.

While I was considering this blog, I was struck by a specific governance concept that has prevailed, and continues to prevail in our world, albeit with varying degrees from a relatively humane application to the extremely aggressive one.  The concept generally applies to three well-established institutions, which I have to believe applied and continue to apply all over the world.  The three institutions are the ‘Military Service’, the ‘Prison System’ and somewhat surprisingly, the ‘Hospital System’.  I never thought of these three fairly different-purpose systems as being built on a similar model; I might have imagined the first two being similar but, not the third.

When you are enlisted to one of the armed services, your first day is to be inducted into this private world whereby your personal belongings are taken away from you, packaged up, labelled and stored for you to collect when one day you’re discharged.  Then, you are given standard medical examination (cough please), maybe disinfected, your outward appearance altered in terms of facial hair, length of your hair, then you’re given a standard uniform, assigned a number, to eventually emerge looking like all your new colleagues waiting in a yard being talked to harshly by the Drill-Seargent, mainly to amuse himself until the last recruit had been processed.  Thereafter, you spend weeks and months being remodelled to become an effective, well-trained, highly-disciplined soldier, who obeys commands when issued by senior staff.

If you are unfortunate and given a prison sentence (I know, you didn’t do it), you pretty much go through the same initial steps, had you enlisted in the armed forces as described above, but perhaps with rougher treatment because you have already been labelled as a criminal who needs to be treated harshly to teach you a lesson.  Nevertheless, your first day in prison will see you emerge in to the prison yard, with a prisoner number, dressed and looking largely like everyone else. Depending on where you happen to be sent to prison, you may be there as a punishment for the crime you did or didn’t commit, or much worse, you are there to be punished further; in which case, God help you!

Now to Hospitals.  Thankfully, I managed to negotiate my life safely away from the first two types of institutions, although I came very, very close to the first by being tempted to join the Air Forces straight from university.  However, at 19:00 hours, of 30 August 2018, I voluntarily walked into the American Medical Center, Nicosia asking to be formally admitted.

I was received by a male nurse who guided me through the process of stripping all my civilian clothes then instructed to wear one of those carefully but badly designed gowns that are held together by two string ties; one at the back of the neck, and the other round the waist.  I was then asked to give up I had on me, such as my watch, mobile phone, jewellery, etc., which were handed over to my wife Claire, for safe-keeping.  Two unusual things happened that evening: firstly, the nurse did not see me keep my underpants on and secondly, my wife folded my clothes, put them in a very nicely packed Tumi carry-on suitcase. The other items like mobile phone, watch, etc., were placed carefully in my Tumi briefcase.  The picture heading this blog gives you an idea how completely useless and irrelevant my entire suitcase was, considering what was going to happen to me over the next two months, dressed only in that dreadful green hospital-issue gown.  The fact that I packed a suitcase as though I was off on semi business, semi casual short trip, is a further demonstration of my ignorance about such matters.  I wish that was the most embarrassing thing to have happened.

The following morning, Claire, my brother Samir, and my daughter Leila arrived early to make sure they could see me off to the operating room.  Thankfully they did not arrive half an hour before, when a young nurse in her mid-twenties breezed in, full of high spirits and announced: Mr. Mufid I am here to shave you!  Automatically, I reached up to my chin to check the necessity of this excellent but unexpected service she was offering.  Then, I realised what she really meant so, I defensively said: I can do that, I have everything in my suitcase over there.   But that was never going to work; she said: No, Mr. Mufid, it has to be done according to the surgeon’s instructions.  I grudgingly agreed and for the next 15 minutes, I suffered enough bouts of embarrassment to last me a life time.  She began with the chest, under my man-boobs, my tummy, top of my groin, thighs half-way down to my knees (remember this part, it will feature in the next blog), and finally, yes, you guessed it, my groin area.  The only licence she gave me on this final act of humiliation was to allow me to move my loose equipment to the left and then to the right, in order to give her razor better and safer access.  To say that was an extremely unpleasant experience is like saying: ‘hey, the way you smashed my face in with that bat was really effective!’.  Job done, she gathered her kit and left as cheerfully as when she walked in.

When the family arrived, we began to reassure one another that all will be fine, and they reassured me they will be out there praying and rooting for me, which I appreciated but hadn’t quite taken in the enormity of what was to come.  I truly was naïve enough to think I would be out in a couple of weeks, convalesce at home for a further week, and then re-join the human race.

At 08:00 the anaesthetistcame to introduce himself, asked for my weight (84kg), and explained that once in the operating room he would like me to help him by curling myself in to the foetus position as much as I could, so he might get a better access to the spinal cord for the epidural procedure.  I promised to help him as he instructed. I signed some release papers, which I clearly treated like an Apple or Microsoft terms & conditions; by agreeing to pages and pages of who knows what? The anaesthetistdeparted, happy to have had a patient who conformed without challenging any of the fine print.

Around 08:30, two male nurses arrived with a wheelchair to take me down to the operating room.  I volunteered to walk but I was told it was against ‘hospital regulations’ where the patient must be taken in either a wheelchair or a full bed, depending on their state of health; I was given no choice in the matter.  The leading male nurse, began asking a specific list of routine questions on what I needed to have done or to do: did I refrain from food and drink since midnight? Were my teeth my own? Had I been to the toilet?  He then asked me to stand up and sit on the chair with help from him, which was unnecessary.  As a highly trained institutional man, from the very generous gaps in that dreadful green gown, he spotted my black cotton boxers and said: ‘these have to go’. I said, ‘what, now’? And he confirmed it was.  I looked up and noticed my three family members had a funny-wicked look of anticipation.  So, I said: guys, please?   Reluctantly, they left the room, I whipped my last barrier of dignity off and shoved it in one of the side pockets of my extremely irrelevant Tumi carry-on suitcase.

I emerged from my room into the corridor with the two nurses, pushing my wheelchair to be greeted by my family who began to hug, kiss and reassure me. Again, ignorant of what was about to come, I was quietly confident but thanked them and told them I loved them back. Off we went at considerable speed, with my gown affording a breeze between my legs that I had not experienced since I was a pre-walking small child, who needed to be wheeled and did not care what part of his body was on public display.  Being a man in my sixties, with a certain amount of ‘dignity’, I had to slam-shut my legs very quickly, as I was wheeled half way around the hospital as though to introduce my private parts to the curious and dis-interested alike.

In the operating room I was instructed by the waiting anesthetistto mount the operating table and, with a great deal of grabbing this part of the gown and the other to keep from full view those parts I did not wish to be even on partial view.  However, as I assumed the foetal position, my gown was untied and thrown aside.  That didn’t feel good!  The anesthetistsaid I would feel a little scratch on my back, which I did but, it was very tolerable considering the scratch to my dignity a few seconds earlier, was significantly worse.  He then said something or another but the next thing I remember was waking up in the ICU to the sound of my three original family members, plus my other two beloved daughters Rosy and Faye, who had landed from England during the 5-hour operation and managed to reach the hospital to complete the reception party.

As I was still on heavy pain killers, I felt fairly well inside; happy to be alive but really, really thirsty. After repeated requests for a glass of water, the nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) brought a cup of water with a short stick at the end of which was a tiny sponge which she dipped in the cup and wiped my lips with; that was nowhere near enough to quench my thirst, so I asked for more.  Gradually, she rationed me to three wipes at a time and after a while she said I could have a suck on the fourth application.  I nearly bit the end of that stick!  She then increased the sucks to three.  Finally, she gave the task to Claire who either did not hear the revised ration I had painstakingly negotiated with the nurse or, she wanted to protect me and insisted on three lip-wipes and ONE suck.  I was furious with her and I might have even called her a few abusive names.  Forgive me, Chief Angel!

Another unexpected but frightening loss was my penis, which I realised at some point soon after the end of the operation.  I instinctively reached down under the covers and when I reached the area where I had left it a few hours earlier, I found it was not parked in the usual location. In its place, emerging from my testicles sack, a thin plastic tube (catheter) that headed somewhere, I did not know where.  In my befuddled mind, I wondered: I couldn’t possibly have signed my manhood away to be replaced with a thin plastic tube, could I?  Surely cancer hadn’t spread that far!  What else might be missing?

The answer to that last question was simple: My dignity.  I didn’t comprehend it at the time but, that Thursday and Friday, the last two days of August 2018, witnessed the gradual but rapid and total loss of my dignity.  There were other relatively less important things I lost on the way, however, there were other notable things that were newly discovered.

In the next blog: ‘Dignity Found’, I will list all of the lost & found items, with specific focus on the newly recovered dignity; to a large extent!


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