Deaf, Dumb , Blind

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I first met Sergeant Bernard West, later called Bernie, and Corporal Tony Meredith when I joined the regiment as a Second Lieutenant. My name is Bryan Shorthose, and because of my surname, I was known in the cadet school as well as the officers mess, as Sox. I was also called by that name whilst I was at school, that being Harrow before I went on to the university where I studied Military History.

I wasn’t the first of our family to join the Guards for my Grandfather was a Colonel, serving in the First World War until he retired, followed by my father who fought in the Second one. Though when the war ended, he resigned his commission, that of being a Captain, and started up his own business. Why he chose to make mannequins for retail shop windows, I don’t know, but that was what he did and made quite substantial profit out of it.

He wanted me to join him to later take over the business, but I didn’t fancy that idea and opted for the army. With my degree from the university plus my family connections, I was able to join the Guards.

We lost my mother while in was in my early teens and so she never saw me on graduation day or of my passing out parade to which my father attended both. So shortly after my twenty fifth birthday, I joined my new regiment. I was assigned to be in charge of Baker squad with Bernie being my sergeant and Tony being the corporal, though then, they were always know as sergeant and corporal.

We did training exercises, parades and manoeuvres for over a year and got on very well as a squad and I was quite pleased when I was made up to being a full lieutenant. Though I was still known as Sox to the senior officers but lieutenant to those beneath me in rank.

*

There was trouble out in Iraq, and that was where two of our battalions were sent, me and my squad being in the second, were flown out there during my second year with the regiment. We were stationed near Khanaquin, close to the Iran border, about one hundred miles North East of Baghdad, to patrol the road that some insurgents were using to cause trouble in Iraq.

I’d only been out there for a week before I was called into the C.O.’s office to be told that my father had been killed in a road accident, and I was being given compassionate leave to return home to see to his burial. It was a bitter blow with me being so far away, but I went and saw to his funeral, me being the only relative left. It was sparsely attended, being mostly employees from his little factory and a few neighbours, but it went off well and I thanked each and everyone that attended and later got to speak to his manager at the factory.

In spite of the death of my father, he was quite pleased when I told him that I would make him the managing director of the company and that I would give him a free hand as long as it continued to show a profit, along with a substantial raise in his own wage packet.

It was a miserable time for me, wandering around the empty house that I’d grown up in, now having lost my last living relative. The solicitor made it quite clear that all that my father had owned now belong to me. The business, which I’ve already spoken about, the house and all the monies that were in the bank was now mine. But that’s no consolation to losing your father who I had hoped to make him proud of me in my role in the Guards. So it wasn’t long before I returned to my battalion out there in Iraq. It didn’t take long to get back into the routine and learning what our role out there was.

We not only patrolled the roads, but some of the small villages just off this beaten track. It was in one of these that we ran into trouble that changed my life and a couple of others, they being my sergeant and corporal.

We were bivouacked in tents, a short distance from Khanaquin, and I was summoned to the command tent and told that I was under the command of Captain Foster who would be leading us on a patrol through a village that I cannot for the life of me now remember what it was called. I relayed the order to Sergeant West and the squad was ready when we set out on that fateful morning.

Captain Foster was leading us with me bringing up the rear of this staggered column of eleven soldiers. We were roughly ten paces apart as we walked through this small narrow street between adobe type of dwellings. Sergeant West had been called up to the front by the captain and was told to tell me that when we left this narrow street, we were to split apart into two sections on the next road which was quite wide. He, the captain, would lead from the left while I was to follow up at the rear on the right.

The sergeant duly passed this message on to me and I called Corporal Meredith back to pass on the instructions as to our deployment when the road opened up into this bigger street ahead of us. Meredith was still by my side when the sergeant moved forward and was about the fourth man in this irregular line when he stopped and knelt down in the dusty road and seemed to sweep the casino oyna dust with his hand. Everybody kept on moving, passing him by and Corporal Meredith stopped to ask him what had he seen. They were like that when I got up to them with the sergeant still kneeling down and the corporal standing up next to him when it happened.

There was this bloody great explosion and I felt as though I’d been kicked in the head as I was blown arse over tit and lost consciousness at that point in the proceedings amidst the swirling dust and debris.

*

I think you can appreciate my bewilderment when I finally woke up, which was three days later into a world of utter darkness. I panicked and didn’t know then that I had been blinded by the explosive that had been triggered off by one of the insurgents we had been looking for. It took another couple of days for me to fully realise what had happened to me and boy, didn’t I cry. Well it was some sort of crying for all I could utter were dry sobs for I didn’t then have any tear ducts left.

Nor eyes. Well sight really, for I still had my eyes but all the optic nerves had been severed by a piece of shrapnel that had entered my head on the right hand side and passed through doing the damage and exiting on the left. Fortunately, it hadn’t touched the brain or nerve centres going down the spinal cord, if this could be called lucky or not, it was a debatable thing as far as I was concerned.

I was blind and there was nothing that the doctors who had attended to me could do anything about. My life and career were ruined in that explosion. My life then was at its lowest ebb and I was wishing that I had been killed outright like the others. That was my thoughts as I wallowed in self pity and gave no thought to the surgeons that had worked hard to try to save my sight but only managed to keep me alive, though they did manage to repair the tear ducts.

*

It was a few days more before I learned that I was in an army hospital in Cyprus, having been flow out of Iran with two other survivors of this blast. They being Sergeant West and Corporal Meredith. The other members of our squad, including Captain Foster had all been killed outright with just us three being the survivors.

Sergeant West, by the pure fact that he had been kneeling down and protected somewhat by other members of the squad who were in front of him, didn’t get hit by any of the shrapnel that flew over him. But he still suffered by having both of his ear drums perforated, leaving him completely deaf.

Corporal Meredith suffered like me after a fashion. He had been standing up as the shrapnel flew outwards, one piece catching him in the throat and on passing from one side to the other, severing his vocal cords. By the time he was operated on, there was nothing they could do to replace or repair the vocal cords in his throat which didn’t survive the blast. The exit wound, which was on the left hand side of his neck and lower face, left him really disfigured with the shrapnel entering his lower throat on the right hand side and exiting just below his eye on the other side.

So there were the three of us, survivors from death but with our disfigurements that left one of us deaf, one of us dumb and me being the one that was blind. God what a mess! It was hell lying there in bed, not being able to see who was attending to me in respect of the feeding and cleaning me up after my ablutions. I could talk which was more than what Corporal Meredith could do who was in the next bed to me.

We must have looked a pretty sight with both our heads covered in bandages though Meredith had to have tubes into his throat for means of giving him food. At least I could talk and ask exactly what had happened to us and that is how I know what had transpired.

*

If was a few more days later that Sergeant West came and visited us as he was about to be sent back to England. His voice was rather loud as he spoke, not being able to hear himself speak, which transpired to be the usual event of a person who has lost the power of being able to hear the sound of his own voice. He told us that he was, the next day, being sent back to England and that he would look out for us when we were deemed fit enough to be moved back too.

It became very confusing when I could hear what he was saying but he couldn’t hear my replies. Tony, the corporal, could hear and see him but couldn’t speak to answer him even though he wouldn’t have been able to hear him anyway. We made a right threesome!

Anyway, Bernie departed for England and that left just Tony and myself in our separate room. I understood that we were left together for at least I could speak to him and he could hear me even though he couldn’t reply. I was confined to my bed for I was not familiar with the layout of the room without the means of sight whereas Tony was allowed, finally, to get up and move about.

With him being mobile as it were, we then developed our means of communicating with canlı casino each other in this fashion. He would take hold of my right hand and with an extended finger, spell out the words he was trying to convey to me. He would spell out the letters of the alphabet on my palm and at the end of each word he would cross the outer edge of his hand against my palm to signify the end of that word. Well he soon got the hang of abbreviating his words, like he would only use the letter U to mean the word you. He would draw an exclamation mark when needed as well as a question mark when wanting an answer which he could hear okay. Though where he got the idea of using the Spanish form of a question by beginning the sentence with the sign of an upside down question mark, I don’t know.

The other alternative was that if anyone was there with us, he would write down what he wanted to say or ask on a pad and that other person would then relate what he had written for me to reply. This was his means of communicating with me when we had the attending nurses seeing to us.

Even though I couldn’t see him, it was a comfort when he took my hand in his and used his fingers to etch out the words he wanted to say to me. I found that he was in a similar state of mind as I was in the fact that he had lost the power of speech and couldn’t use the normal means of conveying his needs and thoughts. But as I’ve said, it was a comfort to me to have him holding my hand in these times and means of him talking to me. I didn’t know then at how much he had become attached to me until later.

*

It was another couple of weeks before the pair of us were flown back to England where we were transferred into another hospital to be checked over. Both of us now having had enough time to come to grips with our disabilities and therefore it didn’t come as a surprise to learn that we would be discharged from the army due to the wounds we had received.

Even so, it was a bitter blow to me, having decided earlier that I wanted to make the army my career and it was now over. What did I have left? Nothing! Okay, I had a business that I couldn’t run, though it was giving me an income. A house that I didn’t really want to spend the rest of my blinded life in. So what was there left for me?

A sort of answer appeared in the form of Bernie, our old sergeant who came to visit Tony and myself in our hospital. It had become common knowledge that we would be discharged and it was for him too. So it was him that came up with a suggestion that we moved into a flat that he’d been allowed to have for a period of two months. The three of us survivors of the mine that had destroyed our careers and left us disabled and out of the army.

At this offer, I felt my hand being taken by that of Tony and had him write on my palm.

‘Bry,’ (his abbreviation of my name Bryan), ‘Say yes!’ He’d not only held my hand but was giving it a squeeze, and so I gave my reply that I would accept his offer. Tony evidently wrote down my reply and Bernie beamed at this and shook our hands and told us in his loud voice that it was a flat that was owned by a friend and he’d been given permission to use it for two months. This would give us time to settle any differences between us and see if we could live together with our concomitant disabilities.

Though the first thing that was made clear was that Bernie would have to try and bring his re-sounding speech level down to an acceptable level instead of shouting. Both of us could hear what he was saying but it was down to Tony to write down what both of us wanted Bernie to know but it was left to them to be the eyes for me. This would be the hardest part, them getting into the routine of putting everything back into the right place so that I could find whatever it was I wanted.

It was here that I had to make quite clear that I would pay my way in respect of all the food as I couldn’t be expected to cook and I would need help in the cutting up of my meals. This was agreed to and so on our discharge from the hospital, I was assisted with the help of Tony, into a taxi to take us to the flat where we would be living. I was getting used to having Tony escort me everywhere we went, even to the extent of leading me to the toilet whenever I wanted to go. But with us now moving into what would be our future living space, albeit for only two months, I would soon learn to find my own way around as long as they didn’t start moving things about.

Outside, it was different. Here, Tony would help me in this fashion. He would be on my right hand side, holding my arm just below the elbow while I had a white stick in my left hand. He would guide me by movements of his hand on my arm. He would give me a slight push when to turn left or pull it away to turn right. A squeeze was for me to stop and a forward movement to go in that direction. It would be a double squeeze at a kerb or steps and a slight pull down would mean to step down or an upward movement to move up. Obvious really and kaçak casino this is how we moved while in the hospital and found that it worked outside as well. I think it was the white stick that made other pedestrians aware of my blindness and so had very few collisions with other people.

It was with some misgiving when we arrived at this loaned flat to learn that it only had one bedroom, which meant that two of us would have to share the pull down sofa which turned into a double bed. With me standing there somewhat bewildered, it was Tony who wrote out that both he and myself would take the sofa while Bernie, as a friend of the donor, had the only bedroom.

This was conveyed to me by the use of Tony’s finger tracing the words onto the palm of my hand. I had to accept what had been agreed for Bernie had already agreed to this quite vocally.

When it was suggested that we go out to do some shopping for supplies, I backed down and said that I would prefer to stay behind to get a feeling for the flat by moving around, touching everything to get to know the place. They agreed to this and went off on a shopping spree for which I gave them enough money to buy what we would need.

It then hit me at how much I was dependent on these two friends to help me with my disability. I couldn’t go shopping. I couldn’t cook a meal. I couldn’t even help clean up the flat. The only thing I could do and that was to wipe my own arse after having had a crap. I sat down and sobbed. Not crying, for I still at that time, couldn’t produce tears and they were just wracking noises that came from my throat at the helplessness of my condition.

It took me several minutes before I could get myself back into some sort of control and then set about exploring the apartment, feeling my way around. Doorways into different rooms from the lounge. One obviously being the kitchen, then the bedroom and the bathroom. This latter being the one I had to remember the most. I also found out in my blind wandering that we would be having our meals in the kitchen. There being a table and four chairs in the middle of this room.

I managed to do several voyages around the flat to get a rough outline of the place, not bothering to find light switches for obvious reasons before the pair of them returned, laden down with a quite diverse assortment of goodies.

I was quite pleased to be able to find my way first into the kitchen before them as they unloaded the bags that they had brought in with them. I was told to sit down and I heard the cork being pulled from a bottle and a glass of red wine was put into my hand and told to drink and stay there while they cooked dinner.

In a way, it was nice to just sit there, drinking my glass of wine while they prepared the food for dinner, knowing that I didn’t even have to help with the washing up, though I did get round to doing this in time.

The only drawback at this time between us was the means of communicating. We, that is Tony and I could hear what Bernie said, but it took time for Tony to write down either his or my reply to any question that Bernie had asked. This led on to a convoluted and time consuming discussion as to how we should overcome this defect between us. It wasn’t solved over dinner that evening but it was at a later date. That being that we enrolled in disabilities classes where both Tony and Bernie would begin to learn sign language. Bernie taking on another course of lip reading while I took on the learning curve of Braille. But that was in the near future. I also bought later, a laptop computer for Tony who could then quickly write down what he wanted Bernie to know or say to me.

I can’t say that our first dinner was a success, for neither of them had any real skills in the cooking department, but it was edible. Tony had sat down next to me and cut up my meat for me and it seemed that he pointed to every item on my plate and conveyed the message across to Bernie to say to me what was where on my plate. I learned that Tony had pointed to every item and it was Bernie who said where it was. I didn’t even have to refill my glass for Tony was there to fill it for me.

I managed to eat my dinner, though I found it easier to use my spoon when it got down to the last remnants of my plate and quite enjoyed the meal and sat back with some pleasure to hear them doing the washing up between them while I drank my coffee.

With the meal over, we went back into the small sitting room and I had to sit in a chair while Bernie showed Tony how the settee reverted into being a double bed. I could hear Bernie telling Tony where the sheets and blankets were and heard this sofa being made up into the bed where Tony and I would be sleeping.

With it being our first day there and what with having to do the shopping, I judged that it was quite late in the evening, so it was quite right for it to be bedtime. Bernie said his goodnights to us in his still too loud a voice and heard him move out and the bedroom door shut. I felt my way round this now converted sofa and didn’t even ask Tony which side of this sofa bed he wanted to sleep on as I got myself onto the left hand side as you would see it from the foot end.

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