Harriet Walker: There's no anxiety in morphine dreams


I have been sleeping in Technicolor this week, after another operation on my faulty leg – this time to remove  the titanium rod that has helped it heal so nicely and hoisted it back into a normal leg shape,  so that I can go it alone. And bend my knee properly again.

I have been dining on morphine,  co-codamol, tramadol and don’t- give-a-damnadol before settling back into the glory of the wooze-induced, preternatural slumber that only prescription painkillers can bring. It starts at your feet, as they turn warm  and fuzzy in turn, travels up your legs  – pausing briefly to caress each of the whinging holes and creaky scars that the surgeon left behind – and thuds across your heart like a great big hug.

Sleeping this way is how I presume  life was in the womb. I wish I could remember, or climb back in, in order to verify this. A sleep during which you know who you are and where you are and what you stand for, so you can just relax and enjoy the boggling that your mind has to offer, rather than finding yourself beset by paranoiac twists on every thought you’ve had in the past 24 hours.

In morphine dreams, you can  get things done. You’re the serene grandmaster of your own future,  whether you’re doing pugil sticks with  a massive stuffed bunny rabbit or  writing a dissertation on a book you haven’t even read. In morphine  dreams there’s no anxiety about turning up to do an exam and realising you’re naked. In morphine dreams, you simply think, “Oh! I’m naked! Well isn’t everybody else in the room lucky?”

If your morphine persona was just how you were all the time, you’d be an arse. You’d be the office joker, the sort  of person who is so comfortable in their own over-enthused skin that they’re happy to be inappropriate and glib wherever possible because they feel that their personality is simply there to be enjoyed by everyone they meet.

When I first came round from my operation – having muttered something disjointed and odd about Downton Abbey as I fought my way out of the hyper-fug  – I was that dreadful chatty person who makes weak jokes about everything.

“Ooh, har har, shall we take the stairs?” I jested, with all the wit of  a drunken uncle at a wedding, as two  long-suffering nurses wheeled my hospital bed to the lifts, my broken leg sticking out from its recesses like a big, bandaged thumbs up. “I feel lovely,”  I told them as we rode up to the ward. They looked at the floor.

The last time I had an operation and awoke to find my hospital gown up around my armpits, I jovially checked with the attendants which of them had seen my nether regions. Instead of roaring with the hilarity of it, they all just looked a bit weary. “Honestly,” thought my morphine self, “I wasn’t accusing them of perving or anything. It’s funny I’ve woken up here, vulnerable and disoriented, with my bits on show to all and sundry. I’m not ashamed.”

But I was full of regret when all the drugs wore off and I returned to my usual dour, slightly grumpy and rather more antisocial equilibrium. How could I have wasted those people’s time with terrible attempts at humour in the face of visceral surgical nastiness? How embarrassing  to have been so personable with people  I didn’t already know and who might think I was an idiot. How stupid to have tried to infuse the pain with a bit of light relief. In real life, where there is no druggy trampoline for your awkwardness to bounce off, everyone knows the rules: you should be grim-faced and pessimistic, quiet and unassuming.

Hospitals aren’t like real life, though. They can be dreadful, awful, bleak  places – last time I stayed in one, it really was. But this time I was surrounded by friendly nurses and jovial doctors – all running on empty, of course – whose good spirits lifted my own and persuaded me that being a morphine drunk wasn’t really something to be afraid of.  I was actually a little sad to leave, knowing that recuperating on the sofa would mean less company  and fewer winks.

I doubt very much that all those doctors and nurses were on morphine, but they managed to be wholesome and agreeable even without it.  (I hope they weren’t, but I suppose we’ll find out when the bandages come off and I see whether they’ve carved a giant smily  face into my leg rather than making neat little butterfly stitches.) There has been a lot of idealist spraff around over the Olympic season about people being nicer to each other, about communities acting like, well, communities. Perhaps the Government has been pumping  morphine into the transport system  through grates and air-con tubes.

Or perhaps it is just nicer being nice. Perhaps your dreams are easier and  your interactions less brittle when  you do them more often and with  people you may never see again. Who knows? I presume when I can walk  again properly, I’ll just put my head  down and stop noticing.