When one is in hospital and alone, one has, usually, much time for dreaming both by day and by night. By day, vagrant thoughts find entertainment - such thoughts as, out in the work-a-day world would be turned inhospitably from the portals of the busy mind.
But it is at night, in those uneasy hours between consciousness and that half-sleep induced, perhaps, by some mild soporific, when, dimly seen, the white form of the night sister flits past the door and the sound of her slippers sounds strangely like the whispering of the ghosts that revisit this white place of their olden sufferings - it is such hours that the strangest dreams invade.
Such a dream I had the other night when, after aeons of uneasy tossings and dozings and sudden, frightened awakenings, I fell into unquiet half-slumber.
While I was yet fully conscious, I remember, I had been thinking of this growing city's need for more and ever more houses of healing. And then I thought of a thousand other great cities similarly situated, and, if the world's pacifists prevailed, I wonder what would, what could be done eventually to cope with the ailments, real and imaginary of an uncomfortably over-populated world.
It was shortly after that the massive edifice of "Operations Inc." began to take shape, and become startlingly real, and I had the singular honor of meeting in person that amazing and efficient man, Iodiform J. Icks, O.B.E.: and we immediately began a grand tour of the building.
"Yes, my boy," Mr Icks was saying, "run almost entirely by electricity. My own idea entirely. Except, of course, for the surgeons and a few others. The old B.M.A. tried to block me; but I soon showed them who Iodiform J. was. Bright young fellows fresh from the "shop" don't sneeze at two thousand a year, and union hours these days. And the public likes it; publicity pays (did you see our electric sign outside? And the Neons over each door? That's the stuff). And it pays, my boy, it pays! Fifteen per cent. on ordinary shares last year, besides what went into reserves. But come along. We'll take this life."
We approached an enormous lift, as big as a town hall into which the public were crowding on foot and in wheel-chairs. But they made way respectfully for the great Iodiform J.
The liftman fascinated me; he had his patter off so perfectly. Something like this, as I imperfectly remember:-
"Dental extractions and fillings, first floor; artificial plates to the left. Appendicitis, flebitis, peritonitis, second floor. Motor cases, for initial examination, third floor." (I noticed afterwards that this floor was patronised by thousands in an hour.)
And so the man chattered on, calling floor after floor until he came to: "Nervous cases, overwork, break down, break-up, rest cures, et cetera, on the atmosphere roof garden." And then in a slightly patronising tone:
"Hammered thumbs, minor cuts, bruises, burns, wens, whitlows, boils, headaches and heartburn in the bargain basement."
"We will step off for a moment at the Dentistry Department," said Iodiform J. We did.
In a seemingly endless row, hundreds of recently vacated chairs awaited new occupants, each guarded by a uniformed attendant. the eager public crowded forward, and in a trice every chair was occupied. Individual troubles were briefly indicated, brief inspections followed, electrical connections were made and, at a signal, the head mechanic at the switchboard threw over a switch.
Then, Hey, Presto! In a trice, three hundred, four hundred teeth left their moorings to go into the conveyor belt which led to the distant fertilizer factory. Efficiency.
I would like to describe in detail the whole of that wonderful tour. I would like to tell of the thousands of strangely silent but efficient nurses of an unearthly beauty, all of whom, as I discovered later, were (excepting a few "matron mechanics"), all marvellously constructed mechanical robots.
"Eliminates the human equation," explained Iodiform J., as he stripped one of them to exhibit the wheels, wires, magnetos, etc., etc., that made her go.
I would like to tell, too, of the many-colored medicines which Iodiform J. invited me to taste and which I discovered were charged each with the flavor of a different cocktail or liqueur.
It was all astounding. Operations Inc, was certainly a marvel of mechanical efficiency. But the greatest wonder, so Iodiform J. Icks informed me, was yet to come.
"Press buzzer five," he said, indicating a row of knobs that dangled each from its piece of twisted flex. I did so. Nothing happened. But a loud buzzer sounded.
"Keep pressing," said Iodiform J. I pressed harder. The buzzer continued, loudly.
"What on earth's happened?" said the night sister. "You'll wake all the other patients!"
"Happened?" I said drowsily. I glanced at my right hand. A finger was on the room signal, pressing hard.
"Sorry," I said. "I -"
"I think," said the night sister, severely, "you had better have another tablet."
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003-04|