Thursday, September 20, 2007

anywhere but here

This morning at the hospital, I was trying to recall what it was that Baudelaire said about hospitals. I had a dim memory of windows and changing beds.

Here it is:
Life is a hospital where every patient is obsessed by the desire of changing beds. One would like to suffer opposite the stove, another is sure he would get well beside the window.

But out of the whole piece, the most chilling thought is that of life as a hospital. One's whole life as a hospital! Who would we be from time to time? The security guard at the gate checking bags to see no one's sneaked in food from outside? The impatient receptionist explaining procedure for the first time? The doctor giving the uncomprehending family the bad news? The family, imagining they are only visiting but find that it's a life-long sentence?

And to think that so many people choose to spend so much time there. I can't even begin to imagine what it must cost to go there day after day.



Alok said...

It need not be so bad actually. Have you read The Magic Mountain? In a hospital you can ogle women (pale and depressive ones are the most attractive naturally), then fall in love, participate in intellectual discussions about the world affairs and the course of history, speculate about the meaning and origin of life, in short change your entire life. But then it is in Switzerland... not really a hospital?

one of the characters in the book says Life itself is a disease of matter, and there are lengthy digressions showing how love is a sickness of soul...

too many depressing thoughts already.

Space Bar said...

Alok: Haven't read Magic Mountain, I'm afraid. Only The Holy Sinner (which is full of blood, lust, chivalry disease and supplication. Wonderful). But intellectual discussions in hospitals?! Really? Folks are more likely to worry about why their bedpan hasn't arrived yet or get annoyed at being woken up at 6am - just after they'd manage to drop off for the night - just so the nurse can take the temperature!

depressing thought indeed.

Alok said...

there is a lot of that Bedpan, Blanket and Bedsheet stuff in the book too. And people discussing their daily temperature charts... It is a very thick book -- around 700 pages in small print.

Haven't read Holy Sinner yet but Mann's fiction in general is full of discussions of sickness and its metaphorical implications. Something Susan Sontag also acknowledges in her essay "Illness as Metaphor" which by the way is a classic too. An angry manifesto about how to think about illness...

I myself hate and fear nothing more than visiting hospitals and doctors, but it is something that I can't stop thinking about too.

anyway, hope everything gets back to normal soon.

Falstaff said...

"So this is where people come to live; I would have thought it is a city to die in. I have been out. I saw: hospitals."

"This excellent hotel[1] is very ancient; already in the time of King Clovis people were dying here, in a few beds. Now there are 559 beds to die in. Like a factory, of course. With production so enormous, each individual death is not made very carefully, but that isn't important. It's the quantity that counts. Who is there today who still cares about a well-fashioned death? No one. Even the rich, who could afford all this luxury, are beginning to grow lazy and indifferent; the desire to have a death of one's own is becoming more and more rare. In a short time it will be as rare as a life of one's own."

- Rainer Maria Rilke.

[1] Rilke means a hotel-Dieu, i.e. hospital.

km said...

Ugh. Double ugh. Hospitals are depressing places. Except that I love hospital cafeteria food and reading back issues of Time magazine.

dipali said...

I've spent a lot of time in hospitals, mostly with various family members, sometimes being the patient myself. The one good thing about a hospital stay is that it makes one's normal, routine, (perhaps even monotonous) life so very magical.
On one occasion my husband was the patient and I was looking most distraught. One of the doctors who was not even treating him was most reassuring-" Why are you so upset, he's in hospital to get better".
I guess I've known some amazing and exceptional doctors. I have also had the experience of being woken up at 3.30am and told to brush my teeth while in the ICU after major surgery.
Managed to read a helluva lot of books while A)waiting around to consult various doctors/specialists/surgeons.
B) Staying as patient's chief attendant.
Hope all is well on the hospital/medical front. ( I'm trying hard not to be nosy, as you can see).

Space Bar said...

Alok: I know. Me too.

Falstaff: Rilke was a genius, no? Thanks.

km: You know what - I also love the hospital cafereria food! It must be some world-wide thing.

Dipali: Yes, hospitals are good(ish) places to catch up on one's reading. All well...routine stuff. Thanks!

equivocal said...

I know this would be a ruthless way to look at an unpleasant visit, but-- isn't there a poem in here somewhere, or perhaps a new section / revision of a certain older poem?

Space Bar said...

Equivocal: :D indeed there is. these days, i never seem to leave a hospital without a poem somewhere. so maybe there's a book in here somewhere!