“I am not a number,” I mumbled under my breath; “I am a free man.” Well, at least I was, two interminable days ago. Unlike Patrick McGoohan in my deep-rooted teenage treasure, however, I know the reason I’m here. But the hours have slowly casseroled into days and there is no buffet in sight: I have no exit strategy. Even the Prisoner of Zenga was liberated eventually, I told myself reassuringly.
In what must be some morbid remake of Misery, I am imprisoned by an even meaner Kathy Bates. This low-budget, foreign language version of the movie is Hecho en Madrid. In the Spielbergian overly-long opening scene, as they always are, I am already hopelessly hobbled and strictly confined to a low-budget gray metal-framed cot. Bedridden and brooding, I’m staring soullessly at an adjacent matching low-budget gray metal-framed chair where my personal effects have been unceremoniously crammed into a bin liner, like some rumpled tent dismantled hastily in a downpour. Not one of those big industrial black rubbish bags, but the smaller Febrezey white ones with the handy built-in ties. From the bulge and imprint puzzle on the bag I surmise that clumsy Kath has dumped my open backpack in there upside down, no doubt resulting in some Apple-themed detritus interspersed with my priceless collection of cheap hotel pens.
Filmed with a handheld in grainy black and white, in the next lugubrious scene my mind wanders, although it still looks as though I’m staring intently at the bulging bin liner. No: I’m thinking back to this morning when I was violated; plopped like a cadaver into a wheelchair and shuffled to the showers where I was stripped of my dignity. Sponged all over with the small exception of “todo,” which she said repetitively while pointing the industrial grade sponge. I assumed that was Spanish for clean your own willy. Nobody expects the Spanish imposition I thought, with a visual of Michael Palin riding an old London bus.
Shamefully returning to the confines of my cot, cantankerous Kath shoved my bin liner aside and dumped my carcass into the chair, like a proverbial hot potato. My badly-aimed bottom apparently managed to entrap the divider curtain over the chair resulting in a semi-automatic staccato of snapping curtain hooks as my cheeks greeted the old hard-plastic seat at 9.81 m/s2. Clunky Kath barely noticed the collateral damage as she went off brusquely scanning for her next victim. I loudly shouted “fuuuuck!” after her as she left abruptly—just so she’d know she’s not getting the whole 5 stars for the service—as I did earlier when she joltingly administered my Siberian shower. Why wait for Yelp?
As I reached gingerly to contain my hotel pen spillage on the old sterilized linoleum floor I wondered how long I’d be trapped here. Just four days ago I’d been enjoying the sights and sounds of marvelous Madrid, when a growing, searing pain mysteriously enveloped my right leg, and just like successive Black Sabbath albums it got worse and worse, until I simply could not walk. In writhing agony, I had to be trundled to the hospital in a wheelchair. And we couldn’t work out what was wrong. My doctor’s office back home emailed that I should be checked out for deep vein thrombosis, but it wasn’t that apparently, and, after a bunch of x-rays, the hospital merely administered intravenous pain medication with episodic doses of careless Kath.
So, I decided that I’d had enough and I would leave the hospital henceforth, commandeer a wheelchair and fly home immediately to Washington DC to embrace the fleeting benefits of Obamacare. But I couldn’t walk; otherwise I would have just gotten up and left like I did in Venice that time when I had a staph infection in the other leg, now known lovingly as my good leg. Funny how that goes.
Like some low IQ version of Stephen Hawking I lay there helplessly, quietly conjugating my Spanish verbs, all the while hatching my devious escape plan like Antony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. “Tienes un bastón por favor,” I practiced over and over, which roughly translates to, “My kingdom for a cane,” or, “I’ll give you one thousand dollars for a walking stick.” Everyone who came within earshot of my bed was subjected to a well-practiced Solicitación en español, even the visitors. Finally, El Doctor came on his last round of the day, and, like a broken record, I trotted out my little overused Spanish phrase. He said, “OK, but are you able to leave on your own?” “Oh yes, no problema,” I retorted with great confidence, lying my ass off like Donald Pleasence before he tripped over the guy’s leg while trying to retrieve the carefully positioned tiny needle from the floor. (That’s a really relevant reference to the most awesome scene in The Great Escape for those older than, say, 50). With all my might, I stood up and concealed my abject agony, and for winning best actor in a low-budget foreign-language drama he brought me my cane. (I decided not to do a joke here about Kane and Able, but I did think about it). In good but halting English he said, “OK the nurse will remove the intravenous drip and you can get dressed and you can go.” “Thank you,” I said with genuine sincerity.
As he walked away I thought, fuck that, catheter Kath ain’t laying another finger on me, as I professionally removed the contraption from my vein, having already practiced said maneuver when I escaped previously from the hospital in Italy. They had cats in that hospital by the way. Anyway, I modestly positioned my half-curtain and delicately started to dress, as the doc walked past one more time. Thinking my curtain wasn’t closed appropriately he helpfully tugged on it moving the half towards him revealing my glowing harvest moon to the lovely visiting family at the next bed.
My dignity now shredded, it took every fiber in my being to walk out of there with the walking stick, while trying not to show how much pain I was in. Turns out I had a very bad case of sciatica, which took many weeks of injections and physical therapy to heal. It took four wheelchairs to get home from my Spanish slammer: four wheelchairs and a femoral.