Saturday, January 10, 2015

`Like the Spider'

“Though Mr. Johnson was commonly affected even to agony at the thoughts of a friend's dying, he troubled himself very little with the complaints they might make to him of ill health. `Dear Doctor (said he one day to a common acquaintance, who lamented the tender state of his inside), do not be like the spider, man; and spin conversation thus incessantly out thy own bowels.” 

Strapped to a gurney, trussed and almost naked like a tender capon, I waited to be wheeled into the O.R. I wanted quiet and found myself repeatedly questioned by hospital staff, who seemed to think my temporal lobe, not my ear, was ailing: “What is your name, sir? What is your date of birth?” Competing for dominance with the interrogative barrage was the bellyaching of a college-age man, also strapped to a gurney and whining as though he were the elected representative of his generation: “I’m cold. I’m thirty. Can I use the bathroom? My head hurts. When can I go home? Where’s my watch?” 

“But what can a sick man say, but that he is sick? His thoughts are necessarily concentered in himself; he neither receives nor can give delight; his inquiries are after alleviations of pain, and his efforts are to catch some momentary comfort. Though I am now in the neighbourhood of the Peak, you must expect no account of its wonders, of its hills, its waters, its caverns, or its mines.” 

 [The first and harsher passage is drawn from Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. During the Last Twenty Years of His Life (1786); the latter from a more forgiving letter written by Johnson in the year of his death, 1784, to his friend William Windham.]

1 comment:

mike zim said...

Brings to mind Daudet's "Land of Pain", about his syphilitic symptoms (“This is me: the one-man-band of pain”) and his treatments (“Mor-phine nights . . . thick black waves, sleepless on the surface of life, the void beneath”); about his fears and reflections (“Pain, you must be everything for me. Let me find in you all those foreign lands you will not let me visit. Be my philosophy, be my science”); his impressions of the patients, himself included, and their strange life at curative baths and spas (“Russians, both men and women, go into the baths naked . . . Alarm among the Southerners”);