Darcus Howe faces divine punishment

As I recover in hospital, I am told that my pain is punishment from the Lord

I wrote this column last week from my bed in Scarborough General Hospital, in Tobago's capital city. Now, after two huge and vindictive carbuncles were excavated from my left buttock, I am an outpatient.

I had been taken to what was described as the surgical ward of this 19th-century British colonial institution. With the beds jammed together, it hinted at an overcrowded dwelling of Tobago peasants. Almost on top of me rested a middle-aged man with an amputated leg, who would explode like a dragon in the night. Then he would howl: "Nuuurse." No one would come for a while, and this poor man would go on howling.

Mrs Howe had sat on a chair for six hours earlier that day. Except it was not a chair; it had been a chair perhaps 15 years ago. Calls came on my mobile, from my son Darcus and my daughter Taiphe. At least I think they did: I'm still not sure whether, in my confused state, I was really remembering calls that were made earlier to me in London.

About four in the morning, a group of women, trained perhaps by the Red Cross, arrived to offer basic care.

"Quiet!" one of them commanded. She then addressed the sick and afflicted throng: "You are fortunate to be alive this morning. You have sinned, and you are here as punishment by our Lord for deviating from the path of goodness. Pain is your punishment and this is your chance to repent from the path of evil." When I complained that the drip which contained antibiotics and saline water was not working, I was told to "shut up".

Only hours earlier, I had chanced my life in that place. The man who did the ECG tests had stood over me, talking to a friend on a mobile, dampening the atmosphere with spittle. When I objected, he ranted and raved: "I wants no talk from you, and I wants no body movement also." And now I was faced with a clutch of holy rollers. The shining light was the young surgeon, trained at Caribbean medical institutions, and Mrs Howe, whom I have rechristened the Great Mrs Howe.

I was discharged with alternative instructions for post-operative care. I could take a sea bath, then use my forefinger to scrape any grit from the wound, or I could stoop over a bowl of warm water mixed with Epsom salts and splash the wound. I preferred the second, and I am now back in the hotel, thinking about holy rollers and an unused forefinger.

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