Sooner or later we’ll all end up here, as patients or visitors. Either state is stressful. I suppose it’s all at the forefront of my mind at the moment, just getting over minor plastic surgery. On my forehead. But here’s a thing..I’ve been in and out of hospitals for about 70 years. Hours spent in X ray, or sitting by a bed in an Intensive Care ward, or having morphine nightmares in High Dependency, or observing with an odd curiosity the sociology of General Wards, or marvelling at the linguistic ineptness of a minority of consultants, or at the insouciance of tanned anaesthetists, or being put through the rituals of admission.
I love the NHS, which has saved and prolonged my life and the lives of those I love. But I’ve never got over the sense of being depersonalised, processed. I think it must be like going into prison. That’s what I think when I read the sequence in Solzhenitsyn’s The first circle, when the apparatchik Volodin finds himself in the Greater Lubyanka. Here’s part of the sequence I mean:
“May I dress?” asked Innokenty…but the barber left without a word and locked the door.
After a while he got into his underclothes, but just as he was pulling on his trousers the key rattled in the lock, and still another warder, with a fleshy purple nose, came in holding a large card.
“Volodin” the prisoner replied without arguing, although the senseless repetitions were making him feel sick.
“Name and patronymic?”
“Year of birth?”
“Place of birth?”
“Take all your clothes off”
Half dazed, he took off those he had on.
And so it continues. Of course, the whole system is designed to demoralise the prisoner, take away all his resistance, individuality, his selfhood. I’m not saying that’s what the NHS is remotely after. But the passage invariably pops into my mind when I’m once more repeating all my details…birth date, address, doctor, all that…. and when I’m in an awkward cubicle taking my clothes off and trying to deal with one of those amazingly humiliating backless surgical gowns, and trying to fit my stuff into a plastic shopping basket, which I may have to carry down a corridor full of normal people in their normal clothes. It’s all necessary, and simultaneously dreamlike…something you hope to wake from, soon. So it’s with that in mind I asked if folk would send me their poems about ‘hospital’ and their experience of it. I’m delighted by their response, and for a few days I’ll be posting what they sent me.
What better place to start than with this poem from Bob Horne
With a flick of fins the fantails
twist and tumble, shimmy and climb
through clear water between shingle bed
and still air resting on the surface.
Hexagonal tank: perfunctory aquascape
of single black rock, more fit for a wall;
tall plant with a look of ivy,
and bubbles rising like hopes.
Our files are on the trolley outside Room A.
Have you seen to next week’s nutrition?
Three rows of chairs; front left’s mine.
I’m fitting things in, doing bits of both.
Opposite, a metal cabinet in battleship grey.
I’ll get found out if they ask any questions.
CRE to DAV, DAW to DOD, DOH to DYS.
You just go blonde, you’ll get there.
We’re running late; there are whispers,
shufflings as bodies are rearranged,
timetables changed. The goldfish,
refracted in angles of glass,
wind and weave in their element,
while we, with a weather eye,
we sit on, stare at the floor:
blue linoleum, like a big sky.
Bob Horne has featured in cobweb posts before ; you can read more about, and of, his work via these links
His pamphlet Knowing my place is published by Caterpillar Press (July 2016)
He is the publisher/editor/presiding genius of Calder Valley Poetry