Friday, May 20, 2011

View from my hospital window

Amazing views from my hospital bed window and a brilliant distraction from any ailments. Very uplifting actually, so I'm sure that's all beneficial for people's health. Well, it is for mine anyway.  The views changed all through the day and night, different cloud formations and light levels, varying amounts of traffic on Westminster Bridge and on the river, a police boat speeding along purposefully at one point. Who needs a TV with a view like that.

It's my favourite hospital in London, partly because of the location and the history, traced back to the twelfth century.  I find it vaguely humbling for some reason that there's been a place on that site for hundreds of years dedicated to treating the sick of the city. It's bigger than any one individual, people come and go, but the tradition and history of the place keeps on going, almost having its own momentum. There is a good little exhibition on in the foyer at the moment with old photos and illustrations from the past few hundred years, in addition to the permanent display cases of objects and ephemera relating to surgery and nursing at that hospital. There is a bit about eyes, including a current lens implant, which addresses my workmates' lunchtime musings over what they actually look like (small bits of plastic, definitely not like tiny breast implants). It's nice to have free lunchtime piano recitals that anyone can wander into, including patients, and lovely ceramic tiles including a large depiction of the tale of Dick Whittington, a former Mayor and benefactor.

The op went well, though apparently it was more complicated than usual ones. I am now recovering and have my fingers crossed that it will all heal up properly. It's very liberating not having to rely for 100% of your vision any longer on external things (glasses, contact lenses etc). Sometimes people say, what would you rescue if your house was burning down and you had a minute to get out, and the answer is usually a pet, a possession, kids. For me, it would have been all my eye stuff I suppose, not that I've ever had to put it into practise. But I''ll never know now as they're like normal people's eyes, more or less. It's REALLY great. What a wonderful surgeon.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Any suggestions...?

I was wondering what a quagmire bracelet would look like. It was a search term I saw in my blog statistics. It must have come via an old post about the PhD experience (feeling like I was in a quagmire, as on the moors in The Hound of the Baskervilles.)

This is a definition....

 -noun [16th C. from quag + mire]
1. an area of miry or boggy ground whose land yields under the tread; a bog.
2. a situation from which extrication is very difficult. an awkward, complex or embarrasing situation.
3. anything soft or flabby.

As it seems a strange and slightly contradictory idea, I would be very interested to know what a quagmire bracelet might look like, or the materials that might be used. Any ideas...?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Eyes and Bones

I'm waiting to go back into hospital for my second eye operation at the moment and trying to finish all my dissertation marking for one college I teach at before then.  I popped in to the Hunterian Museum one lunchtime to see whether there was anything in the current displays about eye surgery, out of curiosity, not to scare myself!

There were some exhibits of nineteenth century eye surgery instruments, but nothing else that I could see. It made me wonder what sort of vision people had after undergoing eye surgery back then, as the tools and procedures must have been so crude compared with now. My grandfather used to work as a hospital porter in his youth and thought he knew everything about surgery, as it was a teaching hospital and he set up the AV for medical lectures. He told me that I would have to lay in a darkened room for a week with sand bags on either side of my head after cararact surgery. What a cheery thing to tell your granddaughter. Fortunately for me, he was very, very wrong. I thought he would be, given past experience of having to listen to his ill-informed diatribes.

It's surprising tranquil in the museum, given the subject matter. The central display is several floors high, with glass shelving holding hundreds of glass jars containing human and animal specimens, diseased or otherwise. The way the light plays through the room and the height of the display makes it seem quite majestic, like a cathedral of surgery, though obviously not religious. It was full of art students busily drawing the pickled parts of their choice. I found the display of the skeleton of the Irish Giant, Charles Byrne, a bit depressing. He was 7 and a half feet tall, and considered a bit of a freak in the late 18th century when he lived in London. He turned to drinking heavily and died at the age of 22. It looks like surgeons couldn't wait to get their hands on his body as he was a medical curiosity and it was a period of scarcity for corpses for dissection. He didn't want to be dissected and arranged for his body to be buried at sea, but even though many surgeons tried to claim the body, one (John Hunter) got it for £500 and now, years later, it's on display in the Hunterian Museum.

The reason I find the display slightly depressing is how it highlights the way that money talks and that the rights and wishes of the dead are limited. His last wishes were ignored so surgeons with money could satisfy their medical curiosity, and there was not a lot he could do to prevent his dissection after death because he was poor and the 'wrong' social class. And obviously incapacitated somewhat by being a corpse. I suppose he could have come back years later to haunt them, if you believe in ghosts. I've taken my students to that museum a few times over the years and one got really upset by the giant's story, almost to the point of tears. I suppose it's good that we can empathise with old remains, as they were people once and we are all human.