After lunch today I clicked onto the BBC website and read this: Tony Nicklinson has died.
I was shocked at first, it was only last week that he lost his right for someone to help him die without being prosecuted. Then I was just sad. I’m glad that he is finally at peace but his situation and its heart breaking ending is utterly, completely awful.
The BBC led onto numerous other stories about people who suffer from locked-in syndrome and I found myself reading all of them.
The stories are not all horrendous but locked-in syndrome is frequently referred to as ‘nightmare-ish’. That's it, I thought, it is like a nightmare come true. The very idea of being locked inside your body is terrifying beyond belief, especially before it is diagnosed. The idea that someone can be lying there, thought to be in a coma but fully conscious makes my skin crawl. Yet people cope with it and live with it and some go on to have happy lives. It shows just how capable and remarkable the human mind is.
I was reminded of the House episode about the man who becomes locked-in. From the beginning of the episode to near the end we see everything from his point of view. We see through his eyes and we hear his thoughts and it gives a very poignant taste of what locked-in syndrome could be like. The loneliness and helplessness. It is only at the end of the episode that the viewers go back to the normal point of view and get to see the man in the way the doctors see him. It is a shock. Suddenly he goes from being a functional human being to a body with just a spark of life in the eyes.
It is human nature to dwell on the nightmare situation – it’s why we’re drawn to horrible stories, why we’re more inclined to listen to news items about torture and rape and death. It is what we fear.
Personally I’ve always felt that the more I learn about something, the more prepared I am. I have always been of the opinion that it could happen to me. I hope against hope that it won’t, but I don’t for one second consider myself exempt. It is why I have hypochondriac tendencies.
I also have a fascination with the human condition and am a sucker for documentaries about people with rare conditions, what those conditions are and how they live with them. I like understanding the variety of life, the uniqueness of nature and the mysterious working of the mind.
After a while you just have to tell yourself enough. Turn off the news when they talk about war and incest and imprisonment. Avoid documentaries, Panorama and One Born Every Minute (it’s not bad but it ain’t pretty!). Yet we still read novels about it, and these topics turn up in all genres. We still watch dramas on television, the topics still haunt our DVD collections.
Somehow it is easier to surround ourselves with horrid truths told through fiction, it suggests that it isn’t real.
Writers need these horrific tales. Within them lie stories, people and tales waiting to be told. On the Fantasy Faction forum there is currently a thread about the most difficult scene to read in a book. There are some good examples and it is something people can get passionate about. Those scenes are also the ones that stick in readers heads and define characters. A horrific scene can be the turning point for a protagonist, or the moment when readers warm to the antagonist. They can make people human and connect with readers in a way that other scenes just can’t hope to reach.
What makes these scenes worse is to know that fiction derives from fact. Everything that we know now must have happened for us to conceive it. So despite attempting to rationalise the human fascination with real nightmares, I am no closer to justifying it. It is a mystery of our existence.
My heart goes out to Tony Nicklinson’s family and I am glad that he has found his peace, despite it not being the way he wanted.
And just to prove that locked-in syndrome is not always the nightmare we perceive, that the human mind is capable of great things, check out this video which was on the news this morning, before news broke that Tony Nicklinson had died.