The opening sentence of Virginia Woolf's classic essay on this subject says it all, really:
Consider how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down in the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist's arm-chair and confuse his "Rinse the mouth - rinse the mouth" with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us - when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.
If you think she is being a tad melodramatic, consider that she had lost her mother at thirteen, had then lost a brother in youth to typhoid fever, would lose her friend and rival Katherine Mansfield to tuberculosis when Mansfield was only 34, and was herself embroiled in a lifelong struggle with physical as well as mental illness.
She was also writing in 1925, three years before Alexander Fleming looked at the mouldy culture and didn't realise what he was seeing, and therefore well before antibiotics -- an assortment of which, over the last month or so, I have either ingested or taken intravenously in amounts sufficient to save several horses. This might be contributing to my current lightheaded state but has saved me from the sort of imagery Woolf uses, which is a tad apocalyptic even allowing for her beautiful ironic hyperbole and her well-founded awareness of the mortal dangers, in her own time, of being ill.
Ideally, the removal of the gall bladder involves a routine laparoscopic surgical procedure, followed by a night or two in hospital and a few days' convalescence. By this reckoning, I should have been completely recovered from my June 24 surgery by the last day of the financial year.
But several different post-op complications, including further surgery that then developed its own complication, have meant I'm still not good for much and keep having to lie down, and how those two extra 8mm gallstones got (a) into, much less (b) halfway along, a bile duct that doesn't look anywhere near big enough to contain them is anybody's guess.
I have now been surgically relieved of everything that could possibly have been causing the attacks I'd been having intermittently since February (and 'attack' is the word; it was like being ambushed by a wild animal, and gave me a new insight into whichever classical Greek came up with the story of Prometheus being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten every day by an eagle, only to grow back at night and have the eagle come back at sunrise for seconds: he had gallstones), so if I keep having them then clearly it was something else all along. But I digress.
For me the interest of this not intrinsically very interesting exercise ('The main purpose of the gall bladder,' as some wag remarked, 'is to keep general surgeons on a steady income') (my own surgeon is a saint, BTW) lies mainly in the experience of helplessness. The abjection of being in hospital is a complex thing, and applies both in the Kristevan sense and in the ordinary sense. The hospital experience is full of the drama of the untidy body: of blood, sweat, vomit, bile, all the other stuff normally contained and hidden. But in hospital, the normally compliant body does not, will not and cannot maintain its normal boundaries or habits, so any chart or graph of its constantly-monitored functions looks like a web spun by a spider on acid.
You emerge to full consciousness from your second anaesthetic in five days to the sound of some poor sod barfing his heart up two beds down in the day surgery area, and you wonder how long it'll be before you're next. (Nearly four hours, as it turned out.) You are still dotted with deep, strangely placed little bruises sustained during the first surgery, and wonder exactly what caused them, while you were out of the world. Your cotton theatre gown, under which you are instructed to wear nothing, ties up, most precariously, at the back. Your temperature is up, your oxygen saturation levels are down, and the nurses frown and tut as though you had somehow done these things on purpose, just to be naughty.
You are desperate for water but Nurse Ratched won't let you have more than tiny sips. She takes your water jug away and puts it out of reach, upon which you are consumed with the desire to maim and kill, if only you were strong enough to sit up. One thing I've learned over the last week or two is that the institutional infantilisation of a woman in her late 50s and in full possession of her faculties can create sufficient force to split the atom. It may be the answer to a clean energy supply.
The staff, not just from member to member but from moment to moment, go in for a kind of psychotic toggling between 'You vill do as ve say or you vill be shot' and earnest, frowning requests that you grade your pain level on a scale of one to ten, or that you decide for yourself, in your addled post-operative state, what medication you'd like to take.
They take blood tests and plug you into potassium drips and keep waking you up or otherwise disturbing you every five minutes to take your temperature, blood pressure and oxygen levels, and yet basic standards of hygiene and care seem remarkably hit-or-miss. In the shared bathroom in a four-bed ward, you step carefully over a pan of someone else's urine on the floor of the loo and wonder whether this is world's best practice.
Your sister, who is an old-school RN and a Leo, wangles you a private room through sheer persistence. They lose your pain medication and keep insisting that you know where it is. The fourth nurse to whom you suggest that it might be in the locked cupboard next to your old bed in the four-bed ward actually goes and has a look there, unlike the first three, and comes back with it in its plastic bag.
The infection subsides, you stop being sick, the pain begins to recede, and finally, after much paperwork, you are allowed to leave.
For the next few days you sleep under a clean white doona in your sister's pristine spare room, where a little table holds a framed photo of your mother as a small child. You are wearing your own soft dark-blue nightie. Your sister sees to your dressings and your diet with a mixture of supreme competence and sibling clowning. You eat dry toast and play cards and watch Masterchef and play with the cat. You come back to yourself, and gradually remember your name.
In which Akker Dakker proudly continues the bash-a-thon, because late is better than never ... - Devastated ... that's the only word for it ... Only nanoseconds after celebrating the return of Akker Dakker to his rightful place, a proud patriarch sta...
5 hours ago