September 19, 2019
“The most painful injection any human being can have” – Jeremy’s story | A Mile in My Shoes

“The most painful injection any human being can have” – Jeremy’s story | A Mile in My Shoes

[OVERLAID VOICES] The Empathy Museum presents A Mile in My Shoes [FOOTSTEPS] MALE VOICE: I’m sitting here with an empty shoebox
which belongs to Jeremy Smith That’s because Jeremy wanted to give us his wheelchair
instead of his shoes. Jeremy says, ‘What can I say?… My wheelchair is me. Hell, it’s like looking in a mirror
– suave but surprisingly rugged!” This is Jeremy’s story. JEREMY: As I’m telling you this, I can actually feel and smell
how it felt to live through this. [ ♩LOW TONES ♩] I can remember the sounds of the train pulling away, the sounds -bizarrely- of the ticket collector coming into the operating theatre,
checking my ticket whilst I was being operated on. I remember the train carriage, used specifically for those people whose operations were the most painful that you could endure. It would travel because that way when you screamed it would only be the countryside that would hear it. [ ♩LOW TONES ♩]
[ ♩HIGH ELECTRONIC TONE ♩] There was a horde of people outside
who were angry at me, they were gonna burn me and drown me,
for whatever reason I don’t know. They were smashing hammers and branches and just their fists on the window,
desperately trying to get me. I was terrified for the first few weeks. I can remember quite clearly
having friends visit me in hospital and me happy to see them, sitting with them, saying, “You see that man over there?
Well, he’s trying to hurt me… If you notice there’s a fine mist coming down through the doorway that he’s created… and that’s so I’ll become unconscious.” At one point in particular the surgeon was coming to check on me and she’d said, “Unfortunately Jeremy, we are going to have to conduct the most painful injection that any human being can have.” And I said, “Is it really necessary?”
and the nurse said, “I’m sorry Jeremy, it is
but there’ll be five of us to hold you down.” The syringe was about two feet long and they had to insert that through my crotch that would then go up into my heart. I just remember the five nurses holding into me as I felt the steel needle pass just ever upwards
through my body And at that time I had tubes going down my mouth, tubes going up my nose, I had wires and all sorts coming out of all different parts of my body and I was so alarmed that I tore all the tubing out and all the wires. Thankfully I passed out very quickly. [ ♩LOW STRINGS ♩] People think that if you’re on morphine you’re gonna be incredibly chilled and relaxed and comfortable. The effect it had on me for the first few weeks were some of the most dreadful dreams
that I’ve ever had in my life. The hallucinations meant I couldn’t tell where the dreams started or ended. These feelings –these fears, these nightmares- lasted I would have said for about three months from the day that I had the accident. [ ♩RHYTHMIC TONE ♩]
[ ♩HIGH WHINE ♩] For me, journalism was about people like Carey Grant, where everyone dressed beautifully
and they all had smart one-liners. I thought, god, that would be so sexy if I could be like that. My big break came when I managed to get a job as a feature writer on Menswear Magazine. At that point, back in the 80s,
I would go to parties pretty much every evening because the world of fashion is like that, and I could say and write anything, so long as I did it with style and wit. I was a 23-year-old and there was copy that I had written and people were reading it. And then since that point,
I’ve worked all over the country and I’ve covered everything from cognac to being a travel editor and a travel writer and then I came to Oxford where, once again, I felt like I was the luckiest person in the world, surrounded by all these stunningly beautiful colleges, stuffed full of some of the biggest brains in the world, and I was allowed to mix with them. So I was living in Oxford, I was 52 and basically had the kind of life where you pinch yourself. The day that I actually had my accident is very short in my memory. As a consequence of the fall, my brain has blanked out pretty much everything. All I remember is that on this particular day
I realised I really really needed to get out of the house.
I went down to a local beauty spot and that is absolutely the last thing that I remember. As my consciousness came back, I remember saying to the nurses, “does this mean that I might find it difficult to go into a bar or a restaurant?” And they said, “Jeremy your injuries are so severe you probably will not be able to walk again.” [ ♩HIGH ELECTRONIC WHINE ♩] For me that felt completely meaningless. It had no effect, I remember that for two nights I did cry but I think I was crying more just because of the situation I was in right then and the pain. I don’t think I properly grasped what it meant or what it could possibly mean. I think I had in all, in that first two or three weeks, about ten operations that were pretty major, and then I went to
the world-famous Spinal Unit, Stoke Mandeville and that was when I then faced this total wall of infinite boredom. I couldn’t move my legs in any way, shape or form. My left arm was also completely useless. As I lay there in bed, unable to move,
just staring at the ceiling, the hours just ticked by. The boredom was palpable as if my brain was passing through a particularly thick form of mud. I remember being in that room hour by hour by hour of just… nothing. In the corridor outside, it’s a quiet hum but I refuse to have the door shut on my room, because, when that has happened it felt then that I really was removed completely
from the universe. If it’s three o clock in the morning and I can hear the nurses outside attending to a patient who’s in distress, I don’t mind being woken up
because it feels real. Outside, cars passing by, people unpacking their packed lunches, there are birds flying around and bees buzzing, that kind of music of life… in a way it taunts me. I can smell urine, I can smell antiseptic, that’s it. In my legs I can feel pain, I don’t really feel anything else. Lying here in the bed right now, the urge not to just cry continually
is just nagging away all the time. That period I think lasted in total about seven months. I clearly was in a very bad way but I began to realize that despite the fact that my body had been smashed extraordinarily I’d suffered no kind of mental injury and I began to find that I could in my head imagine that I was writing the story of what had happened to me, and my recovery. Then, the most extraordinary thing began to happen. Everything that I had known before had changed. Some friends got me a smartphone,
then on that smartphone I set up a blog to write and record about my accident and my treatment and then my recovery. I wanted to give the impression that actually going through this process could be intriguing, it could be funny, it could at times be genuinely and utterly life reaffirming. And being able to know that I could write about that and that other people might read that really really started to push the adrenalin through me and it gave me- for the first time ever- that glimpse of ‘do you know what, I actually think I’m going to get through this, I can actually see that by writing about this, as I write it that I’m beginning to come back to life again.’ And knowing as well that in the future the way that I saw the world as I began to venture out was going to be an adventure in which the most mundane of everyday minutiae suddenly became a brand new challenge for me – and that challenge was interesting to write about. From that point on, I knew that as long as I could write,
I would recover. And now here I am, I live very independently,
very happily and I’ve I think been given the chance that most people aged 55 don’t have, which is the ability to reinvent myself completely. Two and a half years ago, everything I thought that I had experienced was it, whereas now, my mind is crowded with ideas and you are now listening to me attempting to explain what it feels like to go through something life-changing and how incredibly, you can come out the other side. My name is Jeremy Smith, I’ve been a journalist now for more than 35 years. It is the single best job in the whole world and I feel so privileged to have been able to do it, and now I feel very privileged to be able to share part of my life with you. FIRST VOICE: Jeremy’s story was produced by David Waters. and is part of a growing collection hosted by the Empathy Museum’s A Mile in My Shoes exhibition. The shoes and stories come from all over the world. Follow us on twitter, Facebook and Instagram to find out where we’re going next. [OVERLAID VOICES]

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