There’s irony involved in my recounting in Wise Blood the amputation of a pair of my pedal digits. It was a bloody business; But, in truth, not a lot of wisdom in evidence. Neglect, misjudgement, ignorance, bad luck perhaps. Not much wisdom though.
Wellington Hospital behaves like a City State. Once admitted acutely as a patient I became a subject of its authoritarian regime. A benevolent dictatorship where if you know what’s good for you, you’ll allow people you don’t know to do things to you they say are good for you. The vascular ward is straight out of Sartre. Everything I experienced within its dread portals posed an existential threat. From being denied food and liquid for nearly 24 hours ahead of a proposed operation that never happened to being in a cubicle next to some poor sod in extremis and then to a group of surgeons doing their morning rounds and discussing volubly each patient’s symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis. Patients’ rights are something typed on a piece of A3 and taped to a wall.
The food is awful. Dire. The piece of Cod that passeth all understanding. In my case what was on offer was also at odds with my dietary regime. Sugar and potassium are unhelpful and it’s not too much of a stretch to expect that would have been known. But when I asked if a diabetic choice were available, I was proudly told that all meals were designed to meet those needs. Mmm. Some Orwell with your jelly and ice cream?
And so – into theatre. A good name for it. A cast of anonymous, masked actors who perform an arcane ritual on the body of a volunteer who has been hypnotised. To brighten up things, the cast compete to see who can wear the most colourful and eccentric headgear.
I’ve had Sartre and Orwell and now Dali made an appearance; The surgery complete, I’m asked what I would like done with the two amputated toes. ‘I want to see them and farewell them’, I replied. And so, with due solemnity and gravitas, my poor, orphaned digits were presented to me in a small, open container. I reached in and cradled them gently in the palm of my hand. There was a respectful silence in the theatre. I waited a few moments and then said, ‘You know, that’s the first time I’ve been able to touch my toes for almost twenty years.’