Kids and Greek art at the day clinic
“Oh, let her run around!” – it’s 7.30 AM at the day clinic , and the 4-year old takes off again – patpatpatpat, racing through the waiting room, little feet tapping the tiles of the hospital’s corridors. They take turns, mom and dad, to get up and lovingly chase her, keeping her from violently colliding into various obstacles. Mom & dad must be in their twenties, looking tired, but fondly fussing about their lively kid. “She’s been up and about since 3 o’clock this morning!”, the father says, almost proudly, to the nurse of the day clinic.
There are three other kids in the waiting room, less bubbly, but equally doted upon by their anxious parents. In diverse languages (French obviously, but also Slavic, I guess, and Arabic) the respective parents lavish love and care on their kids. Well, it isqsuite something, too, for such small kids, to get ready for an operation.
As to my own pre-ops preparations, biding my time in the waiting room, I try and concentrate on eternal images of Greek beauty so as to forget about my own vulnerable flesh (and about the upcoming bloody removal of the titanium pin from my leg). I’m holding on to a book about Antique Art, written by a practicing medical doctor who knew everything about human frailty (written in 1909, when amateurs could still write art history books. Lightheaded, thirsty and with an empty stomach, I stare at black & white pictures of a graceful nymph removing her sandal, of elegant caryatids sturdily shoring up a temple, ….
Relay race to the operating room
Ah, my turn! A friendly nurse takes me in charge. I obediently undress and stuff all my clothes & belongings in a locker. Dressed only in a hospital gown, I soon find myself in a bed on wheels. A bracelet with my name is meticulously attached to my wrist, and then I’m ready to be processed. It’s almost fun, like a relay race: one nurse rolls me to the first elevator, then another one arrives right on cue to take over, rolling me through corridors and in & out yet another elevator before abandoning me at the gate of the operating room.
“Here you are, something nice to look at ”, the male nurse says, pointing at the opposite wall on which a beneficent soul has painted a paradisiacal view : a deep blue sea & sky, an island with a bright yellow beach and effervescent green palm trees. The surgeon pops in, his usual reassuring, no-nonsense self, with hand stretched out for a brief energetic shake. And then I rather lose track, so many nurses & surgeons & anesthesists whirling about.
Hammering at the workshop
I’m only partly drugged, so I can be a witness to my own operation (though my leg is charitably kept out of view by a screen ). My senses are on alert : the coldness of the operating room, the glaring white lights above, the wheezing and tic-tacking of various machines, the friendly banter amongst surgeon-colleagues while (presumably) my left leg is sliced open, the calling for instruments, and then the hammering. ClinkClankClonk
Yes, a hammering like in a forge or a workshop. I deduce screws have been unscrewed with a quickbolt and now the pin has to be hammered out. “it won’t budge for a millimetre” the surgeon complains, and then he resumes the hammering with tripled force. I lay there cringing & shaking, feeling the blows through my entire body. “Here it is” the surgeon triumphantly exclaims and then peeps over the screen, “would you like to keep the pin?".
I’m wheeled back to a post-operating room, shivering with cold. Around me other patients lay shivering and moaning. A nurse brings me water (which I gulp down gratefully) and shows me the pin, almost 30 cm long, 70 mm thick, with a nice copper-gleam and 6 double screw holes, slightly bent at the top. Really, du beau matériel! I clutch on to my pin with pride.
There is some confusion in the post-op room, with too many patients accumulating because the recovery room is full with children. And apparently adults and children may not mix in the recovery room (why would that be? Adults complaining about noisy children, or vice versa? )
A bare room with a visitor
So, after much administrative debate, I’m finally rolled into a spare room, which is perfectly bare, and perfectly white and has nothing whatsoever to look at (there is smoked glass in the windows – one can only speculate about the view outside, try and deduce the weather from the intensity of light ).
Right, so there I lay then. Without glasses, without book, without mobile (the locker must be ringing with C’s worried calls). Only every once in a while I catch a glimpse though the open door of someone passing by.
In this monk-like cell, in this perfect stillness, am I visited by superior thoughts? Am I contemplating eternal truths? Or am I at least productively planning for, say, a next trip?
Nothing of all that. I grab a piece of Kleenex and start drowsily folding and unfolding and refolding it. I try out various fold-variations, but that limp piece of stupid tissue just won’t become a paper hat, or a paper plane.
Someone walks by at a brisk pace, then turns and peers curiously in. “Hi”, she says tentatively, taking in the bare room, the single bed, and my bored self. She walks in diffidently, then more boldly, asks “what happened to you”? She looks young, with sparkling eyes and a playful grin on her face. Twenties, late twenties, or perhaps even early thirties? Difficult to say with the headscarf firmly tucked in under the long-sleeved blouse.
We exchange our hospital credentials. Her son lies in a cubicle a bit further on the same corridor, also a case of pin-removal, but from a broken hand. So we move on to graphical descriptions of the accidents that brought us here (son had been chased by a dog, tripped over a stair, and bwaaf) . “ I have to go and look at him now, he shouldn’t be alone when he wakes, but I’ll be back” .
The visitor walks in again
And sure enough, just when I am about to fold the last remaining Kleenex tissue, she walks in again. “my son is awake & well, listening to music on his phone, so no need for me to stick around “. Enthusiastically we start delving deeper into our respective histories, out-doing each other with tales of gruesome injuries and close call accidents. Then we start assessing humanity, and the different types of human specimens that walk the earth. The charitable ones and the devious ones, the ones that stick with you when things go wrong, and the ones that would rob you when you lay hurt on the street.
She then tells of how she once found a rucksack and brought it back to the traced down owner, and how scared she was that they might suspect her of having taken away something. “lots of people over here don’t trust us” she says, while self-consciously touching her headscarf and gauging my reaction.
I must have looked appeasing enough, because she continues “my parents have been here for over 45 years, they don’t want to go back to Morocco anymore.”
“I was born here. I only go there for summer holidays, people are always very nice, in fact much warmer than over here, but …. “ She rolls with her eyes, waves her hands “ahlàlà, very exotic, you know, Berbers in the mountains” . “No, I really feel a Bruxelloise, I love my neighbourhood, Saint-Gilles. My parents have always been very open & tolerant. Live and let live, that’s what they taught me”. She glimpses at her watch – “oh, I should be going now! “
I dose off for a while. When I wake, my impromptu visitor is there again with her son. He’s a lot taller than her, but still with a very young boy’s face and looking quite vulnerable with his bandaged hand. Seeing the pin on my bed table, he’s impressed “oh, that’s quite big!” We then say our goodbyes, wishing each other a heartfelt “bonne chance & bon rétablissement!”
Then the usual hospital discharge routine takes over: the nurse changes one last time a bandage soaked with blood; the surgeon comes in and says everything looks fine and that I am allowed to walk. The nurse helps me to shuffle towards my locker to retrieve my things. (i.a. a mobile with 10 missed calls and an anxious voicemail). I dress with some difficulty and then C. walks in, bringing crutches and all, and I can go home, to drowsily attack a fresh box of Kleenex (but at least with Mozart playing on the background).