Creating literary medicine from Nazi poison

Tanvir Naomi Bush Cull, Disability, Writing 3 Comments

I write this to celebrate the wonderful news that we have hit 91%

…and have 207 beautiful, brave, clearly remarkably intelligent and compassionate supporters. I want to thank you with all my heart!

I also write this because it is the 21st August and Deaf and Disability organisations from across the United Kingdom will today highlight the Government’s ongoing human rights violations and evasive behaviour towards a major United Nations committee.

This is happening today because the UK government has to date ignored all questions, recommendations and reports about the grave and systematic abuse of the rights of disabled people put forward by the United Nations and other bodies.  Their apparent refusal to acknowledge our human rights is frightening – more so when we see swastikas being waved openly in America and fascism rising across Europe.  As disabled people, we cannot help but feel under attack. We are reminded of the Nazi’s destruction of their own deaf and disabled community,  T4 Aktion Plans.

I wrote CULL as a way to counter the fear and importantly, to make some noise!

I do NOT believe that people would condone the mistreatment of deaf and disabled people if they first knew about it and secondly understood how it felt.

I have talked before about my use of plot and humour in crafting the novel but, and in view of all this grimness, I want to tell you another key secret behind CULL’s construction. Initially for authenticity and then also for characters and motivation, I extensively researched the T4 Aktion Plans perpetrated by the Nazis. From forced sterilization programmes, Hitler moved to killing of disabled children in 1939 (5000 suffocated, tortured, starved, poisoned and gassed by 1940) before moving on to disabled adults. An aggressive propaganda programme made it possible hardening society to the ‘useless eaters’, the ‘parasites;, or , as Ian Duncan Smith would call us in 2010, the ‘economically unviable.’

I sucked up that poison and poured it into CULL – although in the completed manuscript I NEVER mention T4 directly and it isn’t important whether you have heard of it or not. I litter CULL with small details: the grey vans, the residential homes,  the nurses and, in particular, the attitude of the doctors. The effect of this is historical resonance, which, when reading, gives an uneasy greasy feeling in your stomach, acting like some essential but sour ingredient in an otherwise delicious recipe. It gives CULL its dark interior and an added intensity.   I feel, through writing CULL – AND getting it published thanks to YOU – I will be changing Nazi poison into literary medicine.

A man smiles into the camera. he is white, dark hair slicked back and a handsome face. he looks happy. he is wearing a Nazi uniform

Dr Karl Brandt

Let me leave you with my character, Dr Binding. He is modelled on the infamous Dr Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician who carried out the T4 Aktion plan with cheery excitement. (Brandt was a ‘gentleman’ doctor, revered by his patients and yet with the ability to suffocate, starve, poison and gas them.  Even after the war, facing the gallows, he refused to acknowledge how what he had done had been wrong.)

My doctor is known as The Good Dr Binding.

Excerpt: The Good Doctor Does A Ward Round

Ward A

The Good Doctor’s hands are dry and warm, healer’s hands. He can take a temperature through them, feel a pulse, reassure a person just by placing those long fingers on a cheek or forehead. The nursing staff, technicians and even the cleaning staff love him. He has the energetic geniality and thoughtfulness of a man who knows how important everyone, every cog in the wheel, is to the good running of the system. He cares about them all.

The cleaners:

‘Good Morning Jojo. You look like you had a good weekend? Did you get to your salsa lesson this time?’

‘Thank you doctor, yes doctor.’

The Nurses:

‘Nurse Dyer, I trust you got some much needed rest? You’ve been working terribly hard these last few weeks. You must look after yourself.’

‘Yes doctor, thank you doctor.’

And the patients love him too. He doesn’t sugar coat anything. His bedside manner is assured, competent and efficient but he really looks, really sees, really feels for each and every person he treats.

‘Good morning Ginni. And how are you feeling this morning? Your colour is much better and your temperature is almost normal. A couple more days in bed and you’ll be up and at ’em again.’

‘Yes doctor, thank you doctor.’

‘I see you haven’t eaten your jelly. Now come, come. Jelly is the wobbly bedrock of British hospital cuisine. Surely you can’t resist?’

‘Oh, doctor!’ Polite laughter all round.

With Grassybanks, The Good Doctor is only required to visit twice a week, although as Ward B and soon-to-be Ward C are his own personal projects, he is in most days. He always meets first with the nursing staff, clinical officers and any additional staff to discuss the patients and how they have spent the night or day. He answers questions and cracks a few jokes, and then he and his entourage will head off to the Wards. In Ward A he meets patients, reassures them, reviews medication, listens to the clinicians and nurses and makes decisions on future rehabilitation.

‘Pauline here can go up to 160mgs of the sertraline and reduce her zopicalone to 7.5 and only three nights a week. Hey Pauline, can you look at me, my dear. There that’s right, good girl. How about trying a swim today? I bought you the most colourful swimming cap, so you won’t need to get your hair wet. See, no excuses, eh?’

‘No doctor. Thank you doctor.’

‘Morning Dominic. I had a word with the engineer, and he promises to look at your wheelchair today and get that wheel to stop squeaking. Then you can go and spy on the girls without getting caught again.’ There is more polite laughter. ‘How’s Dominic’s bowel movement? Oh, good. Great, Dominic. Good boy. If you keep that up for a couple of days we can review your carbohydrate intake. Nurse, could you make a note to get the nutritionist in for a chat?’

‘Yes doctor. Thanks doctor.’

In Ward B there is less chat. When Ward C eventually opens the doctor expects there to be none.

Comments 3

  1. Oh, Tanvir – maybe it’s because I am so tired – physically and emotionally – at the moment, but this piece reduced me to rubble. I am always impressed by people who can ‘do’ something with the dreadful aspects of the human condition, something positive … you are one of those people.

    1. Post

      Thank you Tamsen and right back at you! Big hug and a foot-up out the rubble- if you pull me out behind you!

  2. Pingback: Storytelling in words and pictures and & what it means for history, fiction and our lives today - Ruth Hartley

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