In Sickness and in Health: Listening to my husband swear again is music to my ears

Earlier this year, Rebecca's husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

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The Independent Online

“Did Nick used to swear much?” The nurse looked at me carefully, wondering, perhaps, if I was going to burst into tears after hearing Nick swearing very much indeed. “Oh yes,” I said happily, if a little sheepishly.

Nick swearing again after months of silence is like seeing the sun pierce through a cloud when it looks as though a shaft of heaven is beaming down to us muggles below. In this case, the cloud is traumatic brain injury and the ray of sunlight is a glorious torrent of bad words. Happy? Too effing right.

Sheepish, though, because a lot of the profanity is undoubtedly my fault. When Nick and I met, he swore as much as the next man, or at least one who didn’t say sugar, or flip, when he meant something saltier. I swore as much as the next woman, all of her friends, her builders and her foulest-mouthed family members put together. Still do, but I’ll try to keep it clean here. I know, I know - people say that swearing isn’t big and isn’t clever, but my more imaginative curses have the hallmarks of both.

A slug of Anglo Saxon can connect like a punch, but I find that it’s all about deploying it with a lightness of touch. It can disarm, and it can also charm, shock or win over. And I’ve not worked at a newspaper for more than a decade without learning how to curse like a strung-out, hungover news editor on deadline.

After a brain injury, it’s not unusual for people to have a stage in their recovery when all guns are blazing, profanity-wise. Some relatives must be horrified to hear their mothers letting rip with previously unuttered obscenities. Granddad’s church friends are, no doubt, taken aback when he starts calling the doctors a bunch of ******* *****. Hence the nurse’s tentative question. Then again, I can’t think of many situations where flicking through one’s inner Profanisaurus would be more appropriate.

Quite apart from the disinhibition that frequently comes after trauma to the head, it’s not a time when whiskers on kittens and raindrops on roses spring to mind. Bodies hurt. Minds are shattered. Everything is confusing and frightening. Nurses are inspecting, injecting and disinfecting.  If you can’t have a good swear after a brain injury, when can you? “Please could you stop doing that, my good woman, and explain why exactly it is that my mind and body are is such a parlous state” is unlikely to be the first thing to trip off my lips were I in Nick’s position. When Nick had a root canal a couple of years ago, the dentist told Nick afterwards that he had never heard someone swear with such flair. No wonder the air in the rehab unit is turning blue.

So yes, here’s to the swearing, even if it means Nick calling his mum and brother a pair of useless berks (in the original, rhyming slang version of the word). I tell him off if he swears in front of his daughter, ask him not to try to not be directly rude to the staff, and then I drill him to say please and thank you. A foul mouth born of frustration and fear is one thing, ill manners, I believe, is something else entirely.