Gerrie Smit has to hold on to the microphone to remain upright. Tonight – just like he’s done over the past week for his sold-out performances – he’s only miming the songs while his technician plays the CD from backstage. He simply can’t remember the words any more; and anyway, something strange has happened to his voice after the accident. Gone are those pure notes he could always manage with such ease, replaced by a rather unmelodious rasping – as if even his vocal chords forgot how to sing.
He saw doctors, of course. Several of them. Eventually Doctor Kleinhoven told him straight: it’s depression and he’ll have to take medication.
You haf had bad disappointment, yes? The voman you lof has married anoder man, no? And not just any man – a blind vun, too? So, my friend, you are depressed. Quite natural. It happens all the time. You haf to vork through dis, den tings vill become better.
He tried. He really did. Postponed his tour by one week, went for walks, wrote pages and pages in his diary. Spoke to a counsellor, even made an appointment with a pastor.
It didn’t help.
He couldn’t postpone his performances any longer; he needed the money and he didn’t want to alienate his fans. So here he is, in the church hall in Winburg, trying to look as if he’s singing. Who, he thinks, am I fooling?
The beautiful girl in the front row is pointing at him, her other hand elongating, stretching, to cover her mouth. Oddly, he realises, she seems horrified. Behind her a whole row of people stand tilted to one side, while the people behind them take turns to disappear for a few moments at a time.
Am I going mad? Surely what I’m seeing can’t be normal?
But it is. The beautiful girl now has little flames on her shoulders and she’s on her feet, shouting at him – he can see her mouth move, but the words have to travel to the CD player and then he’ll hear it in his ears. He’ll just have to wait, that’s all, before he can hear her.
And then, starting from the ceiling, a black curtain is lowered between him and the audience, finally taking away the voice he has to follow. Without the need to mime, he sits down on the stage. He’s not sure if the performance is over, but at least he can relax now. The curtain keeps on coming until, at last, it settles over his face.
“What’s the history?” Doctor Snyman peers over his half-moon glasses at the intern. When will they ever learn? “You have to start with the history, dammit!”
She’s rather pretty but under Doctor Snyman’s gaze she feels stupid, even dirty. “Well. Um. A twenty-six year old Caucasian male, brought in unconscious by helicopter. Apparent use of antidepressants.” This is just about all she’s got, but she adds, “He won that talent competition in Cape town, sir. Sings beautifully.”
“I appreciate your vast background check.” Sarcasm dripping from every word. “What antidepressants? How much? When last? What accident?”
Snyman sighs theatrically, walks to the unconscious man, and parts the hair just above the left ear. “Fresh scar. Somebody bored a hole in his skull, Doctor, because they wanted to take something out. Neurosurgeons don’t usually do it for the fun, Doctor, they usually have a very good reason to take a drill to ventilate the brain. Usually, Doctor, it’s because the patient has had some bleeding inside the cranium. I do believe you know the condition?”
Thoroughly humiliated, the intern whispers, “A subdural haematoma?”
“Ah! A spark of intelligence! At last! There just may be hope for you, Doctor…” He’s forgotten her surname, but that doesn’t bother him. “So what, my dear medical colleague, does the CAT-scan show?”
“I…I…was waiting for your approval, sir.”
“May Hippocrates have mercy on me,” Snyman whispers in an awed voice.
The medical world works according to a strict hierarchy – it represents the original pecking order in it’s finest form. Not only does this influence the relationship between senior and junior members of the profession – it also relates to the management of patients. These days they use the term ‘triage’ to make a distinction between cases that need immediate attention and those that are less urgent.
And sometimes, due to so many factors, even the best laid plans of mice and men…
This is what happens to Gerrie Smit, the man with a golden voice and a bright future. While the intern frantically tries to arrange the CAT scan, Dr Bones (Radiologist on call) is justifying his surname with Miss Galore (never been in a Bond movie, but a rather aptly named Radiographist) in the little dressing cubicle of the scanner. When at last he answers the phone, he promises the distressed intern to do the scan within the next hour – he just has to finish the ‘urgent case’ he’s busy with.
And that results in Gerrie Smit finally having the scan that proves the intra-cerebral haemorrhage that has caused his confusion, headaches and inability to use his vocal chords properly. Despite Dr Snyman’s scathing remarks, it might have started with the initial trauma, and slowly became worse. Or, it might have been missed in the initial rush to drain the subdural bleeding. Medicine is, more often that is admitted, not the exact science people would like to believe it to be.
Dr Snyman lifts the segment of skull he’s just worked loose to inspect the severely swollen brain underneath.
“Now this, colleague, is the result of waiting too long. See that segment blue-black of brain over there: that’s slap-bang in Broca’s Area. That’s where we organise speech from, right?
“Now note the colour? That’s the colour of delay. Of not acting soon enough. That, Doctor, is the colour of negligence!”
Using a fine needle, he drains the accumulation of blood within the substance of the brain. Then, waiting patiently, he watches the affected area of the brain to see if the colour changes.
“Colleague, this man may never speak again, thanks to that colour – it is the colour of silence.” Snyman stares at her pointedly; his implication all too clear; before starting to close up the skull.
Gerrie Smit swims upwards through the thick, impenetrable dark fog. Somewhere, a large metronome helps him to time his strokes – it is important that he keeps up the rhythm, but his arms keep falling behind on the tempo, which makes him bob up and down rather than progress upwards.
Then light! And a voice…
“Mister Smit? Gerrie! Are you awake?”
He knows he’s on the surface. He has to be. Pavements don’t exist under the surface of…what? It’s white and it’s all around him, stretching away into the distance in all directions. And it’s soft. The though jolts him one rung higher on the conscious ladder. Surface? What surface?
“Mister Smit? Can you hear me?”
The metronome changes tone to become a regular, if faster ‘Beep – Beep…’
Light! He can see light…
Objects gel into reality while he tries to focus on something – anything. After what seems to be a century, he recognizes a neon light in the ceiling. Then the flickering screen of the cardiac monitor. Then a…a…yes, a drip stand.
His hands explore the endless pavement to find it soft – it’s a bed? A hospital bed with white sheets?
A face: eyes, nose, mouth framed by long blond hair.
“I’m Doctor Grace Stroker. Can you hear me?
Yes! He wants to say the word, but it’s hiding somewhere in his head. He goes chasing after it, finally marshalling it towards his tongue with great effort. Say: ‘yes’…
Lips working carefully to say the word, Gerrie Smit wills the thought onwards to find its target.
“Aargh…,” He pronounces the exact command from his brain clearly, deliberately – before the pavement reaches out to take him away once more.