Crossing The Streams: Meet the Spartans
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Roald was in a nearby apartment, writing. She heard the police sirens, but did not initially realise her own son had been injured. An ambulance rushed the child to the nearby Lenox Hill Hospital, along with Susan, Tessa, and the dog. There, Theo was diagnosed with a neurological deficit. Almost everyone thought he was going to die.
When Roald and Pat arrived in the emergency room, they faced a dreadful situation. Not only was their child horribly injured, but the doctors were disagreeing about what should be done. It was a challenge to which Dahl responded with sangfroid and clearheadedness. Several days later, he wrote the whole experience down on paper in one of his Ideas Books. He did this neither for the lawyers nor for an insurance claim, but for himself. It was a private affair, the reflex action of a writer, an observer, who needed to record every detail of the trauma.
This was the flip side of the hyperbolic fantasist.
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Now the analytical eye of the reporter was at work. It was the beginning of several weeks of horrible uncertainty for the family. Housed in an oxygen tent for two weeks, Theo underwent several operations to drain fluid from his head.
- Roald Dahl on the death of his daughter
The surgery was successful and the doctors became increasingly confident that he would pull through, but no one was sure how badly his brain had been damaged. As there were no serious internal injuries and his head wounds seemed to be healing, Theo came back home just before Christmas.
Then, a week later, something about his condition began to disturb his parents. He went quiet; he no longer smiled; his reactions seemed dull. It was they who realised what had happened. Dahl rushed the baby back to hospital. The pressure of the build up of fluid around the brain, he told Dahl, carried with it a severe risk not only of permanent blindness but also of retardation and even death.
No sooner had he got there however, than his sight began to deteriorate again. The shunt —the internal drainage tube into his heart — had blocked. Once more the surgeons operated.
It was a pattern that would repeat itself. Theo would come home, appear to be doing fine, then go blind because the tube had blocked.
Six times in the next nine months, the same thing happened. Dahl was not one to sit back and let things take their course. As soon as he realised that the defective valve was the problem, he abandoned his writing and began to work out how he might improve the situation. He swiftly became something of an expert. Stanley Wade was no ordinary toymaker. He was a craftsman, a self-effacing perfectionist. His speciality was making model aeroplane engines and, in particular, the tiny hydraulic pumps that supplied them with fuel.
Dahl struggled to keep writing that summer. He and Pat had arranged a rudimentary communication system between the house and his writing hut, with a switch in the main house and a flashing light bulb in the hut. One flash was a minor disturbance; two flashes an emergency.
The light often flashed twice. Till fitted it for the first time on a one-year-old child in May And it worked perfectly. Although not ready in time for Theo, who was already well on his way to recovery, the valve was used successfully on almost 3, children around the world. It was partly this fascination with invention that drew Dahl to the medical world.
He had huge respect for doctors and particularly for those who pioneered new treatments. But he was also not above teasing them. Alongside this scientific streak went another, more illogical, which had its roots in the psychic leanings of his mother. The pragmatic rationalist also had a powerful sense of fatalism and destiny.
She was haunted by not knowing exactly what had happened on that corner, and remained uncertain that Susan was not in some way responsible. Roald, on the other hand, seems not to have worried about this. He told Pat it would be both cruel and pointless to fire Susan. He took no legal action. Instead, he told his daughter Tessa that he believed a painting of a peacock he had recently purchased was probably responsible.
He thought the bird was unlucky. It represented a city whose attractions had now finally withered and from which he longed to escape.
But tragedy was about to strike again. Throughoutlife had seemed to be settling into the kind of familiar pattern Dahl had long desired. Pat was away for 11 weeks shooting Hud with Paul Newman, but he was blissfully content to stay at home, writing, gardening and taking the children to and from school when required. Then, one day in November, seven-year-old Olivia returned home from school with a note from the headmistress, notifying all parents that there was an outbreak of measles.
Pat and Roald were concerned largely for Theo, because he was still vulnerable to infection. There was no generic measles vaccination available then — the first was licensed in the US in Pat called her brother-in-law Ashley Miles to see if he could help.
Miles agreed to send some. But he only provided enough for Theo. Roald and Pat separated her from her siblings and let the disease take its course.
After a couple of days of mild fever, all seemed to be progressing normally. When she awoke on the third day, her temperature had come down and she was sufficiently alert for Roald to teach her how to play chess. She beat him immediately. After eating a good lunch, she went to sleep again at 5pm and did not wake until late the following morning.
Only now she did not want to play games, complaining instead that she had a headache. Roald did his best to distract her. He tried to persuade her to make a monkey out of coloured pipe cleaners.
But she was not interested. He noticed also that her fingers, usually so dexterous, were fumbling and imprecise. All she seemed to want to do was sleep. He examined Olivia carefully and, although he agreed that she was strangely lethargic, found nothing wrong.
He left half an hour later. Roald returned to his hut.
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She looked in on Olivia, who seemed sound asleep. Four quick flashes brought Roald running. Immediately, he called Dr Brigstock. But she did not respond. Soon she was unconscious.
As soon as Brigstock saw her, he summoned an ambulance. Roald wrapped his limp daughter in an eiderdown and carried her out to the ambulance, which rushed her to nearby Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Roald followed behind in his car.
He subsequently noted what then happened: Lorries kept holding us up on narrow roads. Ambulance went to wrong entrance. Young doctor in charge. Mervyn and he gave her 3mg sodium amatol. I sat in hall. A small single bar electric fire on wall. An old man in next room. Woman doctor went to phone.
She was trying urgently to locate another doctor. She has an even chance, doctor said. They had tapped her spine. Mervyn left in my car. Leonidas refuses and challenges the Persians to come and take their weapons from them.
With their tightly-knit phalanx formation, the Spartans funnel the Persians into the narrow terrain, repeatedly rebuffing them and inflicting heavy casualties. Xerxes, impressed with Spartan fighting skill, personally approaches Leonidas to persuade him to surrender.
He promises Leonidas wealth and power in exchange for his loyalty. Leonidas declines, promising instead to make the "God King" bleed, and turns to rejoin his army. Dismayed at the refusal, Xerxes sends his masked personal guard, "The Immortals", which name the Spartans also prove false.
The battles continue, with the Spartans prevailing over soldiers and animals drawn from the vast reaches of the Persian empire: However, some of the brave Spartan warriors are killed, and it becomes clear that more will follow. Ephialtes goes to Xerxes, and agrees to show the goat path to the Persians in exchange for a uniform, along with promises of women and wealth.
Xerxes will grant Ephialtes his wish if he will kneel before the god king. Back in Sparta, Queen Gorgo has been trying to convince the council to send help to Leonidas.'Disaster Movie' Review
A friendly councilman arranges for her to speak, but explains that she will need Theron on her side. Theron agrees to help her if she will sleep with him - so she does. At the Hot Gates, the Spartans learn they have been betrayed, and know their fight is doomed. The Arcadians retreat in the face of certain death.
The Spartans refuse to follow. Leonidas orders a reluctant Dilios to return to Sparta and tell of their inevitable deaths. In Sparta, Queen Gorgo makes her appeal to the council. Instead of supporting her as promised, Theron betrays her, accusing her of adultery. Enraged, Gorgo snatches a sword and stabs Theron, rupturing a bag of gold hidden in his robe. As the coins stamped with Persian markings spill onto the ground, the Council realizes Theron's treachery and agree to unite against Persia.
At the Hot Gates, as the Persians surround the Spartans, who have created a dome out of their shields. Leonidas stands along in front of the dome. Xerxes's general demands their surrender, declaring that Leonidas may keep his title as King of Sparta and become Warlord of all Greece, answerable only to Xerxes.
Ephialtes urges this as well, to which Leonidas remarks, "May you live forever," an insult from a culture valuing death and valor in battle. Leonidas drops his shield and removes his helmet, seemingly bowing in submission. Stelios then bursts out of the dome and leaps over his king and kills the general. A furious Xerxes orders his troops to attack. As Persian archers shoot the remaining Spartans, Leonidas rises and hurls his spear at Xerxes, ripping open his cheek, thus making "the God-King bleed.
Leonidas himself marks his final moments by telling his wife aloud that he loves her. A rain of arrows falls upon him and the screen goes black. Back in Sparta, Dilios gives the necklace to Queen Gorgo and tells her of her husband's fate.
Concluding his tale before an audience of attentive Spartans, Dilios declares that the ,strong Persian army that narrowly defeated Spartans now faces 10, Spartans commanding 30, Greeks.