An operation in perspective

19 May, in the year of our Lord 2021

Up very betimes for the operacion on my finger, the cats fed and ablucions performed. But then a Querfuffle and the Messenger to and forth to the Hospitalle while they find me a place to admit me. That done, which takes two hours, along comes Mr. M. Jones to take me there, where I find myselfe, at noon, bedded and changed. And some there recognise me, and say, ‘Are you not Mr. Pepys who used to work for the Naval Board?’ and I say, ‘The very same,’ and would feel esteemed by it, only that I am in a gowne unseemly for its skimpynesse, and worse, it ties poorly at the back, so I am embarrassed to be seen in it, lest they think, ‘If I were Mr. Pepys who used to work for the Naval Board I would not wear those underpants.’
  The ward I am on is newly built, I am told, and they have named it ‘SDEC’, which is ‘Same Day Emergincie Care’ — and Lord, but in it are so many poor souls, with a griping of the guts from the bloody Flux, with useless limbs a-flail and shattered bones that poke through flesh, and some with the smallpox who will not see the end of day; and there is much moaning and such a crying out that I did not hear since the Plague, and a stench of putrid bowels and rancid fat, and it embarraces me to think of my being there for such a small thing as I have, so I keep on my masque and keep to my room, wherein is a single bed and a frayed linen sheet, and a creaking chair and a window to the north, and I walk as least I must on the floor, though the sawdust there is freshly swept and softens the sound of the cockroach on the stone beneath. After a little while comes a nurse, though a little girl, and very young, and checks the tension in my vesseles, which is high, and asks about the Physick I take, only she cannot spell rosuverstattine so she leaves it out. By and by comes my Chirurgeon Mr. Jesudason, a fine and thoughtfulle fellow, with a name from the East Indyes, I think, but the same manner of speech as I did hear in Liverpuddle, who puts me to ease, and examines my finger by the light of a bright lamp, and explayns he will cut here, and here, and raise a flappe here, and remove my Cyste here, and stitch it all together…so! — which will take no more than half an hour. And says he that today he has with him a second hand chirurgeon, if it doth not discomfit me, who is there by his courtesie for she is freshly come to work beside him, and I mind not at all, though I wonder why they cannot afford a new one. Thence, I am wheeled by porters, very merry and of a Drolling sort of men, on labyrinthine ways, meeting along gloomy corrydors with divers wraiths of the City, till we end on the floor of a great vaulted theatre, where rise tier upon tier of carved wooden benches, so much that they are lost in gloom and echo above me, and the reflections of candles all around me glint on the varnish, and macabre shadows are thrown on panelled walls. I lie on a board with my arm outstretched, on a great oak table at my side. And my chirurgeons, there being no fewer than three, incl. a Trainy, gather themselfs around me. Then am I at the mercy of severalle pairs of hands, as they hold me down while one comes with a great syringe and a needle as large as a lance, and Lord — !
  But nothing much, save a little discomfort in my hand, not worse than that of passing a very hard stool, and better than when I was cut of the stone, and I feel my finger become as cold as ice, and cannot move it, nor feel any thing of a pain thereto when they prick it, which is as strange and mysteriose a thing as any I saw in my life. At length my chirurgeon asks if I wish to watch, which I do, whereupon he moves a candle closer and it doth amaze me to see my own finger cut, the skin reflected back and the white bone all a-shine. He shows me on his finger tip a tiny piece of gelly, which gleams in the flickering light, as if it were the contents of a bulls eye, and dangles before my eyes the tiny bloody sac he hath cut from me.
  ‘This is your extensor tendon,’ says he, turning to my hand and pointing out a fibrose streak.
  I have an odd detachmente at seeing my unfeeling anatomie desplayed as a model of Dissection, so ‘Cool,’ say I, for want of aught else.
  At not much more length they are done, onlie with a foul stench from the wound when they staunch my bleeding with a burning iron, and they sew it with a twine of rough gut, and my hand is bound in a great wrapping, which I must wear for five days, and keep it dry. And I am to have only ‘patient-iniciated follow up’, which I say bravely I will try my best not to iniciate. And so the reverse journy to my bed, where I feel a certayne pride, for I can join the ranks of all those others, Saved by Modern Medycine.
  Anon, under the great portico of the doors to that fine Hospitall, I lean against a stone column, and while I await Mr. Jones in his coach to drive into the sun-lighted courtyard and take me home, so is another leaving, who seems to know me, though not I her, and she pauses for a little discourse, a slight woman, of respectfulle mien.
  ‘Have you been in the wars, Mr. Pepys?’ says she.
  ‘I am not long out of theatre,’ say I, inflated by bravado and showing off my bandaged hand. ‘I have had a major operacion on my hand, of several hours duracion and untoward intricacie, but Mr. Jesudason hath managed to save it. All should be well when function returns. Have we met before?’
  ‘I work here, in the kitchens. To make ends meet. You would not remember, but you arranged a Contract for my boy to join a ship.’
  ‘Ah,’ say I. ‘There were very many. But I am glad to have been of service. I hope he hath made a satisfacktery life for himselfe at sea.’
  ‘Well, I would not say it was all satisfacktery. He was taken by Barbary corsairs, chained for weeks in an evil ship’s hold, enslaved at fourteen in a market in Tunice and manacled for two years on a vessel plying the Nile. He has ended up a slave to an Ottoman beylerbey in the Levant.’
  ‘I am sorry to hear that — ’ say I, blanching.
  ‘Oh, it’s not so bad. He’s seen a bit of the world.’ Her weak smile is hid behind her Covey masque, but nothing hides her anxious eyes. ‘Sends back what money he can. And they treat him well, you know. He’s like one of their family now. Nice people, he says — cultured, and all that. He looks after the kids. The girl wants to be a doctor — work in a place like this, I suppose. He likes it there. Good weather. Lots of lemon groves. More one of them than one of us he is, now. And he’s always kept in touch with his Mum. Same day, every year without fail: his birthday, sixteenth of May. I should have heard from him Sunday, but perhaps he’ll ring tonight,’ says she. ‘He Skypes me. Fancy that, Mr. Pepys! He Skypes me, all the way from Gaza.’

By andywmacfarlane

I am a retired medic who likes messing around with a bit of writing, and friends seemed to like my social media postings of "Samuel Pepys: The Covid Diaries". So I'm having a go at blogging them.

3 replies on “An operation in perspective”

I laughed out loud at several points in this piece, Andy. You have really got the voice of your narrator which is so funny at times – but the ending here packs an emotive punch, too, given what has been happening in Gaza this recent period. I love the way you transform your own experience into your narrator’s, embellishing freely where necessary. There’s humanity, humour, human frailty and pathos in these pieces – they’re joyous!

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