Thursday, May 12, 2016

I can see stuff!

Huis Clos
Jean-Paul Sartre’s play is a depiction of the afterlife in which three deceased characters are punished by being locked into a room together for eternity. It is the source of Sartre's especially famous quotation “Hell is other people”.  For two of my eight days in the clinic I was alone in the three-bed room, but the presence of ‘other people’ (predictably men of my own generation) was unaccustomed and disconcerting. It is fifteen years since any other person slept in the same room as I did… and that was when Jessi was visiting me at weekends, a very different proposition! It was inevitable that at least one of the old men would snore particularly loudly when I was just on the verge of falling asleep.

The days posed their own challenge… tuning out the chatter of my companions. The first pair were men who were very well informed about German current affairs. Their idea of conversation was the exchange of monologues recapitulating all that they had learned from their media of choice, typically echoing the viewpoint of the conservative mass circulation tabloid press. Not once did I hear either of them express any idea of their very own. I dare say that this mode of long-winded regurgitation of the positions formulated by others accounts for a lot of the noise in German pubs and taverns. My defence against this assault of redundant verbiage was to clamp firmly to my ears the headphones provided, giving me a choice of two radio programmes (of which more later).

After the blessed two days when I was on my own there came new insurgents to be dealt with. One was quite remarkable, with a voice like a foghorn, inclined to make sonic eruptions at random… oft monosyllabic, always loud and in a thick Bavarian dialect quite beyond my comprehension. To his credit, the man in the third bed did not encourage the stentorian klaxon, and the nurses were professionally tolerant of his thunderous outbursts which… I think… were meant to be understood as friendly.

Once Mickey visited just when I was undergoing my third operation. In my absence she confirmed to the occupants of the other two beds that… yes… I am notoriously ‘uncommunicative’ and… maybe… handicapped by being slightly hard of hearing and… clearly… a foreigner! Well done, Mickey! I think you charmed them both and their verdict that you looked young enough to be taken for my daughter, rather than my once spouse, was a compliment you fully deserved!

My experience of hospitalization is very limited. It was in 1961 that I was admitted to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, for emergency treatment following an accident on my Vespa. In those days wearing a helmet was not mandatory and I’m told that for quite a long time Pa was instructed to keep me from falling asleep, to keep me talking lest I fall into a coma! Fie on any who would assert that ever since that bump to my head I have been slightly odd. Anyway, my outcome was better that that of JFK who expired at Parkland two years later.

Ten years earlier I was an appendectomy patient at the Dundee Royal Infirmary. My memories of anaesthesia, therefore, date from the early 1950s! Hence I fully expected that at the Augenklinik Herzog Carl Friedrich I would be put to sleep with a mask covering my face, breathing is some kind of gas. Might I have to have my beard trimmed to ensure a proper fit? What about my dentures? Hah! Inhalation? So last century! The anaesthetic was intravenous, delivered by an infusion pump. I had no awareness of exactly when it took effect, not even the third time I was put under in spite of a conscientious effort to figure it out. All in all, a bit strange and disorienting but without any discomfort at all.

I had a further experience of the hospital milieu as recently as 1998, although it was in the fictional context of the soap opera Geliebte Schwestern. But the last week confirmed that pretty young nurses are a real-world phenomenon. On the screen for the year that the series was broadcast the white-coated Prof. Dr. Steinfeld was the kindly supervising medic. In the clinic on Nymphenburgerstrasse the white-coat was worn by the urbane Prof. Dr. Schönfeld who, in spite of working twelve-hour days, was invariably cheerful and encouraging. Had the names been any closer to identical I think I might have freaked out!

Water and other matters
The hospital patient is not surprised to find water available on the bedside table. I’d more or less expected a carafe and glass close at hand. But at the Augenklinik Herzog Carl Friedrich the crown-capped bottle resembling that of a half-litre of beer contained a sparkling table water from the Ducal Bavarian Tegernsee Brewery (founded in 1675). In fact the premium beer from the same source is one of my Munich favourites.

All of this I registered before my first operation on the day of my admission. Then at around five o’clock the first meal, a light supper, was served. Now it must be noted that I am an old codger who habitually feeds only once a day, early evening before my Kindle session, and that this repast consists almost invariably of spelt crackers, cheese and paté… all washed down with very modest Chateau Tetrapak white wine from Italy. The clinic suppers were always more varied, with assorted breads and cheeses plus healthy stuff like tomato and hard-boiled egg sections and pickles (items now to be added to my domestic shopping list).

More unusual for me was the rest of the food service. Breakfasts were copious with wonderfully fresh rolls. Lunch was always three courses, with soup and dessert and a main dish which was never less than delicious, first-class Bavarian bourgeois cuisine. All of this was such a huge contrast with my normal regime and gave me the odd feeling of being on an undeserved holiday, paid for by the health insurance provider with whom I had been enrolled (at no cost for the elderly impecunious) in the middle of last year. Little touches were appreciable; the cutlery was tucked into a serviette embellished with the crest of the clinic. 

Another surprise awaited me in the lounge area on my floor. I have possible read in too many British novels about hospital vending machines swallowing coins and spitting out barely palatable beverages. At the clinic there was proper German filter coffee available at no cost all afternoon.

The overall gastronomic experience came close to that which might have been provided by Etihad or Emirates Airlines… on an eight-day flight! The 'long haul' analogy is also apt in another context... for the duration the 'no smoking' sign would be illuminated. Now I have always confessed to being a pack-a-day smoker (at least) but while I was in the clinic if felt no craving for a cigarette at all. Very strange! 

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