At 2.15am on Tuesday 21 September I was awoken in my, as yet unfamiliar, hospital bed by the all too recognisable caustic pain of acid indigestion. I addressed this by the tried and trusted method of not so much grinning, but yet definitely bearing it.
By 2.40pm the promptings from my bladder could no longer be ignored and so I unplugged the pump driving my saline drip—no more intravenous antibiotic by now, just pills to swallow at regular intervals—and pushed the reluctant drip stand along with myself to the en-suite facilities (ah, there was some luxury!). Drip stands revolve as they are pushed, so that quite some effort is required to prevent the various tubes going into one’s veins from wrapping themselves around the pole and drawing one ever closer to the hardware. This is irksome.
As soon as such a pump is disconnected from mains electricity, it sounds a warning bleep that gets louder and more frequent after what seems like two minutes. This is not enough time for a debilitated patient to make it to the loo and back: lifesaver therefore becomes something of a tiresome scold. I managed to make it back to bed before discovering whether there was a third level to the pump’s nagging.
This little episode prompted some musings on organic and digital mechanisms. I am analogue, organic, while the modern pump has a digital face and berates me digitally for unplugging it to answer a most bodily call of nature: the pump is like an interface between two worlds. I was trying to reflect further on such things when the pump exhibited a yet more objectionable behaviour. For some reason, the line from the drip into my arm became blocked—this is called ‘occlusion’— and the pump, whose normal operation was a gentle ticking rather like the lullabyish creaking of a hammock, turned itself to a louder bleeping and a brighter flashing than ever before.
|Your generally friendly bedside pump|
This prompted a very organic rebuke from the male nurse who now hurriedly entered my room to investigate and rectify the problem. Thing was, though, I had been trying religiously to keep my right arm straight by my side so as not to kink the drip lines.
My efforts to maintain the posture increased still further after the irked nurse left the room, notwithstanding that this was inimical to sleep. What choice did I have therefore but to carry on musing? I therefore adjusted my bed, using the handset provided, until it resembled a hammock and tried—with some success—to imagine myself suspended between two shady branches of a spreading cherry tree in Brittany.
There came to mind that famous drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of a man framed within a circle. You know the one…
|Vitruvian Man (Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1457)|
It was then, readers, that musing turned to vision, as I saw the technological pump as an interface between two worlds: the organic and the machine. As the vision deepened, Leonardo’s figure became in my mind the link between the worlds of the macro (the vastness beyond imagining of the universe) and the micro (the cells and atoms within his own body). Only humankind, so far as we know, has the capability of thinking about these two worlds, of their relationship and of the spaces in between them, along with the questions of meaning and significance that such contemplations give rise to. I saw lines projecting from the hands of Leonardo’s now animated man into the infinity of space and sensed his questing for both knowledge and understanding. I am afraid to say that I saw Richard Dawkins and his confrères as wanting to forestall such thinking, to cut the lines radiating from the man’s hands and to occlude dialogue between science and faith, even to the point of doubting whether people of faith can be true people of science.
Maybe in a search for ammunition and most definitely because sleep was now very unlikely I plugged headphones into iPod (aka iPhone) and rustled up iTunes—are you groaning yet? Loaded on the pod/phone were podcasts (oh, heaven help us with this terminology) from Oxford University. I listened to part of a set of philosophical seminars addressing the existence of God in the light of the arguments against His existence propounded by Dawkins in The God Delusion. I will not attempt to rehearse the various arguments pro and con here as I am (a) still listening to and digesting the podcasts and (b) very rusty at philosophy (begging the question of whether the mettle of my reasoning mind was ever very shiny at all).
I also watched some video: part of an introduction to Old English. Sleep came no nearer, until at 5.20am it was time for the nurse to come back and start a new drip at 5.20am. Here is the alarm with which the pump summoned him.
In my dealings with him and his colleagues I was conscious of feeling at a disadvantage, not yet being used to the life of the ward or of the hospital at large. My manner reeled between fawning and assertiveness and in this I sensed the first stirrings of the institutionalisation that was to stand me in bad stead over the rest of my enforced stay.
A new day had begun for me some hours previously, but now the dawn had arrived…